Right from the start, this play has a lot going for it: Graham Linehan is a gifted comedy writer, famous for creating such classics as ‘Black Books’, ‘The IT Crowd’ and ‘Father Ted’, so his rework of a classic Ealing comedy is sure to be a quality script. Add to that an experienced and insightful director and a highly talented cast, and you have a winning formula. And that’s even without the brilliantly constructed set which makes inspired use of every inch of stage space.
Every character is finely drawn, even to the group of little old ladies twittering in, led by Chris Turvey as Mrs Tromleyton, ready to enjoy a concert and leaving slightly bewildered at the cacophony, but managing in the process to spook Louis Harvey, the mafia-style gangster with an aversion to old ladies played with a wonderful air of menace tinged with vulnerability by Dave Newton.
Ian Moth’s portrayal of blustering Major Courtney reminded me of Stephen Fry’s General Melchett, complete with impressive moustache, while Pete Harris’s Harry Robinson was every inch the classic spiv. Yet each of these supposedly hard men had his vulnerability: the Major rushing to the toilet at the prospect of actually going through with the robbery and Harry popping pills and obsessively cleaning everything in sight.
Only One-Round, played to perfection by Paul Gwinnett, seemed to have no qualms at the prospect of committing the planned crime – and perhaps that was because he didn’t quite understand the implications. His misunderstandings made for some great comedy however.
Holding this band of misfits together – well, almost – was the mastermind of the project, Professor Marcus, played with brilliant comic timing and characterisation by Michael Arnell, whose portrayal, as events unfolded, of a man thinking on his feet and half a beat away from total meltdown at times was a lynchpin of the piece.
The other lynchpin was Mrs Wilberforce, played with a great combination of sweetness, innocence and guile by Marylyn Ford. Her conversations with Nick Turvey’s local policeman Constable Macdonald were some of the evening’s funniest, evoking her journey from dotty old lady to criminal mastermind perfectly.
First night audiences left with comments such as ‘Absolutely fabulous’, ‘Hilarious’ and ‘Brilliant’ on their lips. You have a few more chances to find out just how brilliant for yourself – the show runs tonight (Saturday) and from Tuesday 7th to Saturday 11th February starting at 7.30pm.
But hurry – tickets are selling fast!