Theatre Review: The Ladykillers at the Gielgud Theatre

Peter Capaldi conducts his merry band of crooks with the flair of a maestro in a new stage production of The Ladykillers.

The ominous shadow of Sir Alex Guinness in a hat creeping across a front door is still the defining image of The Ladykillers.

And much of the style of the 1955 film remains in a new stage production by director Sean Foley and writer Graham Linehan, creator of The IT Crowd and Father Ted.

Sweet old lady Mrs Wilberforce (Marcia Warren) and her higgledy-piggledy house are taken over by a mismatched bunch of confidence tricksters, as they plan a bank robbery while posing as a string quartet holding daily practice sessions. But the heist unravels as Mrs Wilberforce unwittingly scuppers the plans.

Peter Capaldi as lead villain Professor Marcus conducts his motley crew of thieves with the flair of a maestro. There is much rolling of rrrrs, waspish flicking of a silly long scarf, and camp bouncing on toes, in an inspired performance.

The rest of the cast add to a snappy slapstick dynamic and Ben Miller is excellent as the angry Romanian mafioso with a pathological fear of old ladies, a fine antidote to Capaldi’s zealous optimism.

It is all charmingly British, charming men in suits, up to charming old school heists, fooling charming old ladies. It’s Oceans Eleven with tea and petticoats.

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Some of the new jokes may be too bawdy for fans of the classic film and the pace drops off in the second act. But this is a production full of fine acting and it is really very funny.

* Showing at the Gielgud Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, W1, until April 14, 2012.