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A star-studded cast and even the magical set wins applause; THEATRE The Ladykillers/Liverpool Playhouse.

Byline: Laura Davis

IF THERE are faults to be found in the new stage version of The Ladykillers you''d be too caught up in its magic to spot them.

From the moment the front of Mrs Wilberforce''s subsiding North London home revolves to reveal a sprawling scene of chaotic domesticity - filled with floral teacups, lace tablecloths, fringed lampshades and antimacassars - it''s clear this is going to be a show to cherish.

It is in this lopsided mansion that a gang of experienced villains meet their match in the form of a sweet little old lady, who suspects her newsagent of being a senior Nazi-in-hiding yet can''t at first spot the thieves under her own roof.

IT Crowd creator Graham Linehan''s script packs the Ealing Studio''s original premise with visual gags, one-liners and plenty of slapstick, framed by fast-paced dialogue reliant on the well-timed direction of Sean Foley (The Play What I Wrote).

Then there''s Michael Taylor''s stage set, described by Linehan as "the seventh cast member", a design so dazzling that it draws spontaneous rounds of applause from the audience.

And indeed it seems almost alive, with lopsided door frames, flickering lights and pictures that fall by themselves off the walls; dust sheets that slip without help to the floor and banisters that break at comic moments. Outside, the house seems relatively ordinary until miniature vehicles chased by police cars race up its front wall and a tiny train chugs its way over the roof in a scaled down version of the villains'' heist.

But none of this fandango would count for anything without the actors, who could perform Linehan''s words in an empty room and still charm.

Not a weak link among them, they are led by The Thick of It''s Peter Capaldi in the Alec Guinness role of Professor Marcus.

With vulture-like features, he talks his way into Mrs Wilberforce''s home, violence bubbling under the surface as he requests "just a suspicion" of sugar in his obligatory cup of tea - his vicious instincts tightly controlled until the very end.

It''s a star-studded cast - the Vicar of Dibley''s James Fleet in the role of Major Courtney, the nervous con man with a liking for dresses; Stephen Wight (Whites, Threesome) as the slightly alarming, pill-popping youngest member of the gang; comedian Ben Miller as the vicious Romanian with a mortal fear of little old ladies and Clive Rowe, an almost angelic One-Round.

And of course their unsuspecting arch-nemesis Mrs Wilberforce (Marcia Warren), an unknowing Miss Marple dressed in lavender.

As the Playhouse''s centenary show, The Ladykillers is a fitting birthday present for a theatre built on aspirations to produce the very best.

CAPTION(S):

Ben Miller and Peter Capaldi Capaldi as the dastardly Prof Marcus and Marcia Warren as Mrs Wilberforce, also below Clive Rowe, Peter Capaldi and Ben Miller as the motley crew of criminals Pictures JASON ROBERTS
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 9, 2011
Words:479
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