Saturday 21 April 2018


Brian Lavery

Bord GAis Energy Theatre

This stage version of a 1955 British slapstick comedy film has all the ingredients that audiences should expect from a hit West End show on tour.

There's buckets of classy old-school acting, from actors who easily fill a giant auditorium with unamplified voices. There's enough tight timing and staging to have earned director Sean Foley an Olivier Award nomination, with pantomime-style 'don't-look-behind-you' moments and slick physical comedy.

It's about a bumbling gang of thieves, who pose as a string quintet and board at an older widow's house in King's Cross, as cover for a robbery. But it's also adapted by the esteemed Irish TV writer Graham Linehan, so audiences should expect a fresh edginess here too.

Instead, the brain behind 'Father Ted', 'Black Books', and 'The IT Crowd' has presented a blandly reliable adaptation that lands right in the middle of the road.

The cast do serve up an enjoyably goofy troupe of baddies. Louis (Cliff Parisi from 'Call the Midwife' and 'EastEnders'), the moody foreign one, speaks in a string of mistranslated malapropisms. The jittery drug addict Robinson (William Troughton) goes on obsessive cleaning binges when his pills kick in. Professor Marcus (Paul Bown), the gentleman mastermind behind the operation, wears a trailing scarf that his doddery landlady keeps stepping on. For her part, Mrs Wilberforce (Michele Dotrice) is prone to paranoid flights of fancy about aliens and Nazis.

Linehan does give them great lines, like slagging the sickly parrot who lives under a lace tablecloth because he "looks like a diseased washing-up glove."

Things tick along nicely until the second act, when the thieves' plan unravels and they start disappearing. The pace slows down and the show's wit goes stale.

The surprise star here is designer Michael Taylor's set. Most of Mrs Wilberforce's crooked house is tilted at nearly a 45-degree angle. A split stage puts her sitting room below the gang's rented bedroom (where they pretend to rehearse), not to mention a couple of staircases, trapezoidal doors and impeccably shabby detail throughout. Taylor pulls off impressive special effects, like rotating walls to expose the exterior of the house, and furniture and props that shudder every time a train passes by outside.

This is also a very British show: making references to Burnley accents and the Second World War. That conservative tone sets the bar for the plot twists and devices: enough to please the crowds, and not much more.

Irish Independent

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