Starting today, Trinity Theatre Club puts on its adaptation of ‘The Ladykillers’. Running until Saturday, October 22, this stage adaptation of the classic 1950s Ealing Comedy was written by Graham Linehan, creator of ‘Father Ted’. It follows a motley crew of misfits and criminals posing as musicians who rent rooms from an elderly widow who has just a gnarly parrot for company – and a habit of reporting everything to the local police constable! Here the show’s director Helen Thorpe tells Eileen Leahy more about the show…
Why did you decide to put on ‘The Ladykillers’?
I am a long-time fan of the original film ‘The Ladykillers’ and the work of Ealing directors Hamer and MacKendrick. I can remember watching it with my dad when I was a kid and loving all the tongue-in-cheek antics, murders, and general mayhem – always with a brilliant script and performances. ‘The Ladykillers’ is classic Ealing Comedy at its very best. So, when Graham Linehan created an adaptation for the stage, for me it was a no-brainer to put it on.
So what is the play about?
Mrs Wilberforce is an eccentric old widow who lives alone with her raucous parrot General Gordon in a gradually subsiding lopsided house, built over the entrance to a railway tunnel in King’s Cross, London. With nothing to occupy her time, coupled with an active imagination, she is a frequent visitor to the local police station where she reports fanciful suspicions regarding neighbourhood ‘activities’. She is approached by an archly sinister character, ‘Professor’ Marcus, who wants to rent rooms in her house. However, she is not aware that he has assembled a gang of hardened criminals for a sophisticated security van robbery at London King’s Cross…
How does an eccentric old widow get involved in the criminals’ heist?
As a cover, the ‘Professor’ convinces Mrs Wilberforce that the group is an amateur string quintet using the rooms for rehearsal space. After the heist, she is then deceived into retrieving the stolen money, which she successfully manages to do, but, smelling a rat, ‘Mrs W’ informs Marcus that she is going to the police. Stalling, the gangsters then half-convince Mrs W that she will surely be considered an accomplice, and when this doesn’t work, they assert, that it is a victimless crime as the insurance will cover all the losses and the police will probably not even accept the money back. She wavers, but when she rallies, the criminals finally decide they must kill her! However, who actually survives, to win the day?
What is it that people love about the film and the play?
Well what’s not to love? This play is a madcap farce with a great story, great characters, and a great energy. The film was only adapted for the stage 12 years ago, so it straddles the line of telling a period piece with modern language beautifully and the film itself is so iconic, someone in the family will know or at least heard of it. It’s a real tonic for these hard times and still holds some relevance and topicality – especially around the human self. So many people will be able to relate to and laugh at it as they recognise elements of themselves or someone they know. It’s a joy.
What are the differences between the film and the play?
Linehan’s play brings ‘The Ladykillers’ into a more contemporary style of writing without losing the heart of the original film – which starred Alec Guinness and Peter Sellers. It obviously can’t replicate the outdoor scenes, so this aspect has been paired back. However, the play has more emphasis on comedy, one-off lines and the business of comedy, which you would expect from Linehan – the writer of ‘Father Ted’ and ‘The I.T Crowd’. It is more farcical than the film with – dare I say – undertones of commedia dell’arte, introducing a much more comedic physical element that the film doesn’t do. In this sense it is therefore more accessible for today’s audience.
How many actors are in the production and are they local?
There are 13 actors in this production. Most are very local and live in and around Tunbridge Wells. We do have some familiar faces returning to the stage, but also welcome four new actors to the company. This is a lovely, strong cast which I hope the audience will enjoy. We are very lucky that there are so many talented actors in West Kent who have chosen to work with Trinity Theatre Club (TTC).
Were there any tricky elements to staging this piece?
The biggest difficulty after the last two-and-a-half years is getting the support of our audiences back into the theatre and supporting the club. This also includes the many talented people behind the stage that we have used – the professionals and experts in stage design, lighting, sound, technical, props and so on. Many though have sadly left the industry so this has been a struggle as TTC believes at its core that we should be producing high-quality productions to the best of our ability. However, with a lot of work and love I think we have managed to do this for ‘The Ladykillers’, especially as we are attempting to introduce some special effects into the stage. Getting that achieved for the audience will be awesome!
What do you like about directing in general?
At heart I am an actor, so I love the fact I can relate to the performers on a very personal level. And yet I love the challenge of formulating a vision, creating the overall piece with my interpretation on the play, its staging, costume etc and then seeing it realised no matter how briefly. Unlike film, I love the immediacy of live theatre as it’s very, very special and no other genre truly compares. You have to be brave to do it. That or barking mad!
There is a special opening night offer of two tickets for £26. But TTC also has special rates for schools, matinees and Friends of Trinity.
To find out more about tickets and timings visit: www.trinitytheatre.net or call the Box Office on 01892 678 678
Disclaimer: This amateur production of ‘The Ladykillers’ is presented by arrangement with Concord Theatricals Ltd, on behalf of Samuel French