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Black comedy remake pure gold; Ex-EastEnders actor Shaun Williamson says Ladykillers play is better than original.

Byline: STEVE HENDRY

Revisiting a classic piece of work is not for the faint-hearted, which is perhaps why Shaun Williamson feels able to make a bold statement.

The actor, still recognisable from his 10 years on EastEnders, is part of an all-star cast touring the country with the stage version of 1955 British black comedy The Ladykillers.

For many, the Ealing Studios film - directed by Alexander Mackendrick and starring Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom, Peter Sellers and Jack Warner - is comedy gold and should be revered as such.

Not Shaun, 46, who is a fan of the movie but reckons the stage show, written by Father Ted co-creator Graham Linehan, has more to it.

He said: "I'm probably committing sacrilege but I think it's better. Graham Linehan is such a great writer and he's certainly made it funnier. If you just used the script from the film it wouldn't work.

"I am a fan of the film and I would say to fans, don't let the fact it has been rejigged put you off."

The Ladykillers, which also stars Clive Mantle, Paul Bown and Michelle Dotrice, sees a gang of criminal misfits posing as amateur musicians renting rooms from a sweet little old lady, Mrs Wilberforce, while they pull off a heist.

Shaun plays the part of Louis, a killer with a phobia of old ladies. It was a role carved into cinema history by Pink Panther star Herbert Lom, who died in September, aged 95.

It was a passing Shaun felt obliged to mark.

He said: "When he died I went out front and dedicated the performance to him as the last surviving member of the cast. It doesn't bear much resemblance to his performance. I didn't even revisit the film, I just did my own thing.

"You can be so heightened on stage, you can be so big that it doesn't bear any relation to the film.

"I play this one very straight because Louis is the only member of the gang who is capable of extreme violence, and all the way through it he is the one saying let's just kill her and get out of here. The only problem is he has a phobia of old ladies so he can't do it. If he didn't they would have the money back, they would all be rich and they would all be out of there. But because he can't, and because nobody else is capable, it all unravels, that's the crux of it. It is nice to play the psycho."

Whatever else the play is, it is certainly a show of two halves.

He said: "The first half is a classic farce, they have to do a concert for the old woman and they can't play a note, but in the second half it gets quite dark because they all start dying in different ways."

Since leaving EastEnders and his role as hapless Barry Evans in 2004, he has been a regular on stage and screen but he sees stage as his true calling.

He said: "I trained at a very good stage school in London and was totally geared up to be a stage actor then ended up in EastEnders for 10 years.

"When I left there I wanted to get back on stage and I have just worked out this is my 20th stage production in nine years. In fairness, nine or 10 of them are pantos but there has been Guys and Dolls, Saturday Night Fever and all sorts. Stage is where it all started. As soon as the curtain goes up, there is that thrill of knowing you just have to get on with it."

The married father of two has also become synonymous with The Office creators Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, who have cast him as a fictional version of himself in both Extras and Life's Too Short.

He said: "I am always cropping up in stuff but they have kept me in quality productions on TV. It is totally down to those guys. You find you get a whole new audience, which I didn't have before. People know me from EastEnders, now they also know me from working with Ricky and Stephen.

"Ricky and Stephen are doing another series of Life's Too Short so I am doing that in February and I am also writing and appearing in a film called The One Hit Wonder, in which I play a really twisted version of a Simon Cowell figure. I am very lucky."

The Ladykillers is at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, November 5 - 10, His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, November 12 - 17 and Glasgow Theatre Royal, November 19 - 24, www.thelady killers.co.uk

CAPTION(S):

CAST... Shaun's co-stars include Clive Mantle, Paul Bown and Michelle Dotrice

CHALLENGE... Shaun is enjoying playing killer Louis, a role made famous by Herbert Lom
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Article Type:Theater review
Date:Nov 4, 2012
Words:821
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