The Ladykillers, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, Coventry, until Dec 11.

The cast of The Ladykilllers, being staged at The Criterion Theatre from December 6 to 13.
The cast of The Ladykilllers, being staged at The Criterion Theatre from December 6 to 13.

The first round of applause for this stage adaptation of the classic Ealing comedy comes as the curtains part to reveal the most meticulously detailed two storey set of a deliciously cluttered 1950s home.

It’s as the sinister film music dies away that we meet harmless little old lady Louisa Wilberforce, explaining to the nice policeman (Matt Sweatman) that the newsagent on the corner is really an ex-Nazi who’s got it in for her because of the critical letters she wrote about Mr Hitler to the Sunday Times. But of course, it isn’t Nazis Miss Wilberforce has to fear - it’s her new lodger, Professor Marcus (Jon Elves) and his nefarious pals in the chamber orchestra ‘rehearsing’ in her spare bedroom.

Criterion stalwart Jean Firth, mother of a dynasty of younger performers, makes a great job of Miss Wilberforce in this piece which has some wonderful lines but does occasionally drag.

Jon Elves obviously relishes lines like “being fooled by art is one of the primary pleasures of the middle classes” as his mis-matched band of the criminal classes are finally forced to play their instruments in public. That’s right after being discovered holding a ‘conference’ in a cupboard and the stunning special effects of the whole set being regularly shaken during the passage of the trains outside the window.

I loved Peter Bagley’s fake major, with his pencil-moustache mannerisms and his terrific scene up on the roof with Mafia-style gangster Louis (Trev Clarke) who proved a dab hand with his flick-knife. Then there was Pete Gillam as the pill-popping likely lad and Craig Shelton wringing out every nuance from his role as the dim-witted ex-boxer with the tender heart.

The ensemble-playing between all five criminals was really fun while Jean Firth maintained her bewildered innocence as she tripped daintily between her potential murderers and her parakeet’s cage.

I can see why director Keith Railton was drawn to this adaptation and the set, quite apart from the cast, is worth the ticket price.

But there are one or two wilderness moments when you want to shout: “Just get on with it.”

Star rating 7.

Barbara Goulden