THE BASICS: THE LADYKILLERS, by Graham Linehan, at the Shaw Festival Theatre, 10 Queen’s Parade, Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON in repertory through October 12, 2019 (905-468-2172 / 1-800-511-7429) www.shawfest.com Runtime: 2 hours, 20 minutes, with one intermission, full service bar, gourmet ice cream, charming café.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Although inspired by the 1955 movie starring Alec Guinness, this play does not slavishly follow it scene by scene, but rather adapts the charm of the original for the stage. We meet our five robbers, pretending to be members of a string quintet as they plot their schemes in a rooming house run by the sweet old Mrs. Wilberforce. One by one, we are introduced to their eccentricities, and then follow the unexpected twists and turns of their robbery. You don’t need to have seen the movie at all to enjoy this show.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The actors are superb; the set is stunning; this is The Shaw at its best. Exquisitely detailed views of the rooms in “Mrs. Wilberforce’s” house are afforded by use of a rotating platform, allowing for non-stop action, with both interior and exterior scenes. Much like the play NOISES OFF, the set becomes a character on its own, receiving applause not only at the opening curtain, but at several times during the show. Yes, Shaw sets are always extremely clever and beautifully made, but this is special.
Shaw sets are always extremely clever and beautifully made, but this is special.
Meticulously detailed, it offers several recurring gag props, including a painting which, on its own whims, hangs either straight or crookedly on the wall, to the consternation of the mastermind “Professor Marcus” (Damien Atkins) and a double-sided flipping chalk board which consistently catches the robber Harry’s nose (Andrew Lawrie) by surprise. You’d think that these repeated gags would grow old, but director Tim Carroll keeps coming up with fresh ways to use them.
The other three robbers include “One-Round” played with one-too-many-punches-to-the-head dizziness by Martin Happer; the not-to-be-trusted “Major Courtney” (Ric Reid); and perhaps the funniest because of his dead-pan delivery, Steven Sutcliffe as the Romanian hit-man, Louis.
Shaw favorite, actress Chick Reid, so completely inhabits her character, she is almost unrecognizable as the slightly dotty Mrs. Wilberforce.
This play was directed by “the boss” himself, Tim Carroll, who got every bit of fun out the script. And you will too.
Photos courtesy Shaw Festival
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!