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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Vaudeville


  John Gordon Sinclair, Angela Thorne, Simon Day, Chris McCalphy, Ralf Little and Con O'Neill/ Ph: Dan Tsantilis

They’re back: the ill-assorted gang of not-so-scary toughs with their eyes on the prize of a big heist and their brains largely AWOL. Graham Linehan’s adaptation of the classic 1955 Ealing film comedy, in a dizzily enjoyable production by Sean Foley, opened at the Liverpool Playhouse in winter of 2011 before a sell-out run in the West End last summer and a subsequent national tour. And what a daft delight it continues to be, with a crack new cast and enough zinging verbal wit and zipping visual gags to blow the chimney pots off the wildly higgledy-piggledy Kings Cross house that the madcap action tears through.
That lopsided domicile, brilliantly designed by Michael Taylor, is to some extent the star of a show whose aim, triumphantly achieved, is sheer entertainment. Twisted and perilously precarious, yet curiously cosy, the set contrives to put every room on stage at the same time, from the kitchen with its erratic plumbing to the snug sitting room, the rooftop, the gabled attic and, of course, the cheerless spare bedroom that this eccentric property’s owner – the frail but feisty, and highly fanciful, elderly Mrs Wilberforce (Angela Thorne) – rents out to dubious criminal mastermind Professor Marcus (John Gordon Sinclair). When trains pass through the nearby mainline railway station, the furniture executes a jittery gavotte. The robbery is executed, with a crazed balletic grace, on the external walls of the building, as the whole structure revolves and little remote controlled vehicles careen over an aerial view of the district that appears on the brickwork. It’s utterly silly in the most charming way possible.
That beguiling daftness is the keynote in a plot that sees Marcus and his henchmen, disguised as a string quartet, wreaking unhinged havoc in Mrs Wilberforce’s environment of dilapidated gentility. This includes a chaotic performance for a twittering gaggle of excitable old ladies – a prospect that hardened Romanian psychopath Louis (Con O’Neill) finds more terrifying than any of his usual nefarious activities – and near misses with both an eye-rolling police constable patiently weary of Mrs Wilberforce’s tall tales and her irascible, ailing parrot, variously described as “a diseased washing-up glove” and “a starving baby in a sock.”
There’s an especially hilarious moment when all five are discovered by the bemused old lady squeezed into one low cupboard, limbs cramped and twisted into all manner of excruciatingly improbable positions. But none of it would be as amusing or engaging if the performances weren’t carefully judged, and there’s some consummate skill on display here. Sinclair has a creepy urbanity that contrasts nicely with the dense brutishness of his team. O’Neill is frighteningly volatile; Chris McCalphy touching and strangely lovable as the soft-centred, dunderheaded thug One-Round; and Ralf Little a vibrating, brittle beanpole as the brilliantined teddyboy pill-head Harry Robinson. As for Simon Day, his cross-dressing, wistful Major Courtney hints at a whole hidden fantasy life of flounces, furbelows and gentler pursuits. All have impeccable timing, and their farcical antics are a joy to witness. A giddy pleasure.


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