This review was originally written for The Public Review.
This transfer of an Ealing comedy had a successful run in the West End last year and it has made a quick return with a new cast. The story concerns a group of criminals posing as a string quintet who hire a room from an old lady. The slanted house sits above the railway track and is part of the plan for the robbery. The writing for the stage version by Graham Linehan (Father Ted and IT Crowd) managed to translate this 50’s comedy into an entertaining and snappy play. The comedy lies in the interplay of the innocent old lady and the bungling criminals, each with his obsessions and idiosyncrasies. In truth, the criminals are a group of softies and at no point pose any danger to the old lady. This lack of a sense of danger and menace is slightly disappointing. However, as a pure comedy, there is plenty to laugh about; whether it be a little word play here or a bit of slapstick there. The action ticks along nicely and it is well written and largely enjoyable.
The direction by Sean Foley keeps the play light-hearted, although some aspects such as the physical comedy are well coordinated, the dialog is a little loose. The criminals, led by the capable John Gordon Sinclair’s Professor Marcus, show their little quirks to the full. This aspect of the play is not explored completely, they are too one dimensional but each brings some amusing moments to the play. Angela Thorne plays the old lady Mrs Wilberforce with utmost sincerity and maintains her innocent and straight faced demeanor when all around her crumble helping to bind the disorder.
Technically, this play is quite impressive: from its cleverly designed, revolving set, with little tricks to show the car chases, to the vibrating house when the train goes past where furniture moves and drifts back into place. Designed by Michael Taylor, the slanty doorways and walls of the house give a distorted sense of space and height and manage to fit a three storey building in a compact stage. The revolving frontage and the set for the final scene are also excellent. If other aspects of the play are lacking, the technical side of the production should impress.
This production feels like there is something missing, perhaps a little rigor and energy. But the writing and the production design are certainly a great base for this to be a fantastic show. Lets hope it improves either later in the run or perhaps when it returns next year given recent success.