The Ladykillers | Brighton Open Air Theatre | Review

The Ladykillers

Brighton Open Air Theatre

May 2023


Despite a chilly May night – this superb adaptation of the nineteen fifty-five Ealing classic ‘The Ladykillers’ keeps its audience on the edge of their seats until the final denouement.

Not only is it a fine translation from screenplay to stage – but it is blessed with an outstanding cast, skilful and innovative direction, an ingenious setting and costume design and technical support of the highest calibre.

A sparkling music soundtrack bridges scene changes and sets the mood pre- show. And even though the film characters are skilfully represented here there is certainly no carbon copy but rather a re-discovering resulting in far more extensive characterisations and mining of the script to superb comedic effect.

The film was set in various locations but the central house locale provides a hub from which the ingenious plot radiates. The simple setting of solid door and window flats interspersed with beautiful period props and furniture is also easily manipulated – with the cast as stage hands to provide occasional exterior locations in a similar way to a Greek Chorus.

Five bank robbers contrive to have their headquarters in the home of kindly Mrs Louisa Wilberforce in her cosy home blissfully unaware of the evil deeds conspiring around her. Add to this the subterfuge of posing as a string quintet who are unexpectedly asked for an impromptu recital in front of elderly guests and the stage is set for a riotous and memorable evening.

Each of the characters is fully rounded and blends seamlessly with the other protagonists to form a close-knit ensemble who bounce off each other to perfection. In the iconic role of Professor Marcus Andrew Fettes gives a powerhouse performance driving the play through balancing obsequious charm and sinister intention with ease.

Jolyon Young as Major Courtney combines his excellent projection in this open-air setting with equally strong comedic timing and invokes real sympathy from the audience in the final stages of the piece.

Without giving crucial plot elements away when the demise of the quintet begins in the second act the clever and effective way in which they leave the stage and enter immortality is both ingenious and even gives way to spontaneous applause, a sure sign of how much the audience have empathised with each member of the wicked five.

Peter Lovstrom as Harry Robinson keeps the pace moving at a cracking pace and Harry Hart as One Round wins the audience over on every entrance with his hilarious mental state but never becoming caricature.

As Louis Harvey, director Patric Kearns commands the stage throughout bordering on the psychopathic and compelling to watch.

And special mention to the two elderly ladies visiting the house to witness the string recital – beautiful cameos! And likewise, Josh Tomley is wonderfully earnest Police Constable Macdonald.

But it is Anna Brecon as Mrs Wilberforce who beautifully shines throughout the evening remaining ladylike and calm, whilst mayhem whirls around her. Changing beautiful period costumes on every entrance, she carries off the pivotal role to perfection and shows her many years of theatrical experience off at every turn – a fine performance.

The sound effects and operation are handled expertly – particularly that of the gramophone and its oft repeated Boccherini minuet, General Gordon the Parrot and the ominous train whistle – reminiscent of the factory whistle from Sweeney Todd!

My only slight observation would be that more bank notes should be used in the trunk containing the swag – as it doesn’t seem commensurate with the seriousness of the bank raid but this is a small point in relation to the amazing work that is on display by a dedicated team.

In conclusion this excellent production is every bit as compelling as its film original and the enthusiastic audience at opening night proved its popularity and the love of post war nostalgia. Farce, thriller and vaudevillian by turns, this should be savoured during its run at Brighton Open Air theatre.


Reviewer: David Rumelle