IT is the story of the eccentric little old lady who lives alone with her parrot in a lopsided boarding house in King’s Cross. Enter new tenant Professor Marcus and his four friends, posing as a group of amateur musicians. In reality they are a criminal gang, planning a security van heist.
The 1955 Ealing comedy is considered a classic, so bringing it to the stage was a given, surely?
“When a theatrical agent called me about adapting it I was nervous,” admits producer Edward Snape.
“That it is recognised is terrific because people are automatically interested in seeing it but there is a risk of the expectations just being too high.
“What we’ve done is pay homage to the film but not simply produced a replica. Otherwise people may as well watch the film at home.”
He adds: “You have to come up with something special for the theatre.”
“The Ladykillers wasn’t simply a case of, let’s get a famous film, take the script and out it on the stage,” says director Sean Foley.
“We’ve developed a proper stage show from the roots of the film.”
The adaptation was written by Graham Linehan, best known for Father Ted and The I.T. Crowd.
“It’s very theatrical,” says Foley.
“There is a lot of physical comedy.”
We’re speaking at the Gielgud Theatre in London’s West End where TheLadykillers opened earlier this year.
The London cast included Peter Capaldi as Professor Marcus, Ben Miller as Louis and James Fleet as Major Courtney.
As well as breaking box office records at the Gielgud, it picked up five nominations for the 2012 Laurence Olivier Awards.
“There have been productions in the past but this is the first time The Ladykillershas been in the West End,” says Snape.
“I believe there was a Nottingham Playhouse production some years ago. But I didn’t see it. It’s always better to go in to a new production with a completely blank canvas anyway.”
It was actually Giles Croft, Nottingham Playhouse’s incoming director in 1999, who put the play on tour that year.
“There have been other adaptations but none on this scale,” says Kindred Rose, the son of William Rose, who wrote the original screenplay for the Ealing film.
“Those I’ve seen have been straight copies of the film. They were done quite well but they took the dialogue directly from the film and didn’t change it much at all.”
His father, an American who settled in Britain after the Second World War, came up with the story in a dream.
“I think he would have admired it,” says the 35-year-old, whose father died when he was 14.
“Thirty per cent of the film takes place away from the house so including the car chase in the play has been done really brilliantly.”
A car chase? On stage? I won’t give it away but it’s one of the production’s bigger laughs.
Says Foley: “It’s a good night out that everyone can come and see. There’s no swearing. I think the worst thing that anyone says is ‘blooming ’eck’.
“And there are some great production values and special effects.”
Foley is fresh from directing Kenneth Branagh and Rob Brydon in the French farce The Painkiller. He’s won awards in the West End for Play What I Wrote, Do You Come Here Often? and What The Butler Saw.
“We’ve done a lot of repeat business, a lot of word-of-mouth business and the response from critics has been very good as well,” he says.
The Express, Independent and Times all awarded it five stars.
Foley adds: “I always do comedy because I like it and I think it’s far more profound than tragedy.”
Shaun Williamson – you know, Barry from EastEnders – is watching as he is one of the stars of the touring production that comes to the Theatre Royal next week.
He’ll be joined by Clive Mantle (Robin Of Sherwood, Casualty, Holby City, Game Of Thrones), Michelle Dotrice (Some Mothers Do ’Ave ’Em) and Paul Bown (Holby City, My Family), plus Chris McCalphy and William Troughton.
Williamson plays One-Round.
“He’s a boxer who claims he had potential but thought he’d make more money by taking a dive,” he says.
“He’s at the heart of their downfall because he’s a teddy bear really. He is the one who says that the old lady is not going to be harmed. Then they all turn on each other.”
Williamson’s stage roles are usually in musicals.
“Apart from Porridge ,this is the first straight play I’ve done in a quite a while.”
He resisted watching the original film, which starred Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers and Herbert Lom, to prepare for the role. He also sidestepped the Coen Brothers’ 2004 remake with Tom Hanks.
“I wanted to go in fresh,” says Williamson, who played himself in two series of the Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant comedy, Extras.
“I’ve never played Nottingham,” he says.
“In fact, I’ve only been there once before and that was for a recording of The Price Is Right with Leslie Crowther. My local pub in Worthing had a trip up there in 1987.”
The adds with a laugh: “That’s a bit sad, isn’t it?”
The Ladykillers runs at the Theatre Royal from Monday, October 29, to Saturday, November 3. Performances at 7.30pm, with matinees on Wednesday at 2pm and Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets are £12 to £29.50 from the box office, call 0115 989 5555 or go to www.trch.co.uk.