New Wolsey Theatre.
13 September 2017
Kicking off their autumn season, the Wolsey, in a co-production with Salisbury Playhouse and Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch, stage Graham Lineham’s adaptation of the classic Ealing comedy, in which a bungling gang of robbers are thwarted by the interference of landlady Mrs. Wilberforce. It’s a risk to stage a production of a much loved film, and, overall, the Wolsey manages to pull it off, although the production doesn’t quite reach the comedic highs it could have.
First plaudits must go to the wonderful and ingenious set by Foxton, that takes us inside and out of Mrs. Wilberforce’s crumbling, bomb damaged premises next to Kings Cross station, taking us and the characters from every level, basement to rooftop, and cleverly incorporating the signals and smoke of a busy train station. It’s a brilliant playground for the cast to play on.
Second plaudits go to director Peter Rowe’s casting. This is a fine ensemble, with some perfectly rounded characters providing many laughs. Ann Penfold is excellent as Mrs. Wilberforce, finding a perfect match with Steven Elliot’s Professor Marcus, much of their comic timing well executed. Damian Williams steals the show as the thick but loveable One Round, Graham Seed perfectly captures Major Courtney’s desire to cross dress, Sam Lupton is a highly energetic pill popping Harry, and Anthony Dunn is wonderfully sinister and threatening as Louis Harvey.
Yet the second half doesn’t fulfil the promise that the first half sets up. The bumping off, one by one, of the gang becomes a little tedious, and jokes, such as Harry banging his head, begin to run for far too long. (Mrs. Wilberforce stepping on Marcus’s scarf becomes annoying, especially as his death is changed from the West End staging, in which the scarf played an even more profound role.) After the hilarious concert that opens act two, the action begins to plod, and, as this is a highly technical and complex show, there are pauses as the set revolves and the next set piece is arranged. Perhaps it needs a few more shows to run in, but overall, entertaining as much of the evening is, it doesn’t yet deliver a killer comedy blow.