Sunday, August 04, 2019

“The Ladykillers” a lesser farce at The Shaw

Farce is a sub-genre of dramatic comedy with the intent of making an audience laugh.  The story line is the device that gets the amusement-reaction. The plot in a farce is likely to be improbable, and maybe even incomprehensible.  That’s part of the humor-inducing methodology.  Verbal humor runs the show.   An example of a classical farcical play is Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”  Ken Ludwig’s “Lend Me a Tenor” is another.

The farcical genre sometime takes on the guise of low comedy when it goes beyond using language to get the desired laughs by adding slap-stick physical absurdity.  Examples of physical farces are “Noises Off,” ‘The Torch Bearers” and, the present off-Broadway hit, “The Play That Goes Wrong.”

It takes special directing and acting skill to get the desired effect of farce, especially the physical variety.  Special attention needs to be paid to getting the audience to laugh at the spoken word, not at the actors exaggerated presentational skills.  If over-done the ridiculous becomes so absurd that it is no longer funny, but stupid.

Graham Linehan’s “The Ladykillers,” now on stage at The Shaw, bills itself as a farce. It is of the physical variety, with lots of shticks and gimmicks inserted to get the audience to laugh not only at what is said, but for what is done. 

The slight plot concerns a sweet little old lady, alone in her house, who is pitted against a gang of criminal misfits.

Professor Marcus and his fellow robbers rent a room in the home of eccentric Mrs. Wilberforce.  The villains plot to involve her, unwittingly, in a supposedly well-conceived heist.

Their pose to the landlady is that they are musicians and need a place to practice.  A series of ridiculous events, including hiding the money from the heist in a bass case, killing each other off, playing a concert for a group of Mrs. Wilberforce’s friends, and trying to keep one-step ahead of the landlady and the police, gives open invitation to lots of ridiculousness.

“The Ladykillers” is a 2011 stage adaptation based on the film of the same name.  Those who saw the movie, which starred Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Danny Green, know what a delight it was.  The West End reviews of the play stated that it was a “perfect pitch performance,” "A joy from start to finish," and "An exuberantly inventive evening."

I wish I could say the same of the Shaw production. 

The script is not of the same quality as Wilde or Ludwig, but it is serviceable.

Unfortunately, though there were many funny and audience laugh-inducing moments, Tim Carroll’s directing begged the audience for laughs.  There were enough naturally funny moments in the play that would have brought laughter, without begging for the humor. 

Sight gags were repeated over and over.  The first time someone is hit in the head by a turning blackboard it was funny.  By the fifth time it was not.  How many times can we be induced to laugh by an off-kilter picture being straightened?  An actor’s over-expressed confusion may be amusing the first time.  When repeated over and over it becomes boring.  The same with the over-done parrot squawking. 

Judith Bowden’s clever turn-table set design was a nice visual addition as was Paul Sortelli’s original music. 
Chick Reid was delightful as Mrs. Wilberforce.  Damien Atkins was on-point as Professor Marcus.  Steven Sutcliffe nicely developed the role of the old-lady-hating Louis.  Ric Reid properly phumphered his way as Major Courtney.

Capsule judgment: “The Ladykillers” gets an over-done farcical production at The Shaw.  It will be of great glee to many, however, it would have been more amusing if the material had been allowed to develop its natural farcical level, without redundant shticks and over-done characterizations.
WHEN:  Through October 12