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Eastern Angles’ Ladykillers create Christmas mayhem with an Ealing classic

PUBLISHED: 16:21 15 December 2017

The cast of Eastern Angles Christmas show The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

The cast of Eastern Angles Christmas show The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

Mike Kwasniak Photography, 2017 - www.mikekwasniak.co.uk

Eastern Angles Christmas show has a reputation for creating affectionate spoofs of cultural classics. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to producer Tim Bell about having fun with The Ladykillers.

Daniel Copeland as the heavy Scar Feet in the Eastern Angles Christmas show The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane. Photo: Mike KwasniakDaniel Copeland as the heavy Scar Feet in the Eastern Angles Christmas show The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

The Eastern Angles Christmas show is the stuff of legend. Since they staged Mr Pickwick’s Victorian Christmas in 1988, the theatre company have affectionately lampooned everyone from Charles Dickens to Sherlock Holmes to Jane Austen and genre-movies like The Day The Earth Stood Still.

This year it’s the turn of the Ealing Comedies, in particular, The Ladykillers to receive the irreverent Eastern Angles Christmas show treatment.

The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane gives the Ealing classic a novel local twist. It is not only transported from West London of the 1950s but is relocated to an Ipswich-cum-Rushmere street in today’s world.

The boarders in the theatrical lodging house are no longer criminals masquerading as musicians but are now posing as a troupe of actors intent of celebrating the work of Oscar Wilde with a free community performance of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Todd Heppenstall and Daniel Copeland in the Eastern Angles Christmas show The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane. Photo: Mike KwasniakTodd Heppenstall and Daniel Copeland in the Eastern Angles Christmas show The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

This will give them the opportunity to rob local houses but will they have met their match in Binkie, the one-woman neighbourhood watch scheme?

Creative producer Tim Bell said that the development process took two years to transform a cinema classic into a modern stage play that could stand the comparison with its source material.

He said: “It’s a loving homage with plenty of local flavour and all those things we associate with an Eastern Angles Christmas Show. It gives us a chance to celebrate a great film and have an entertaining Christmas show at the same time.

“Our band of villains aren’t as evil or cut-throat as those in the film. We love the film, but it is just a jumping off point for an original piece of theatre.

Todd Heppenstall and Emma Barclay in the Eastern Angles Christmas show The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane. Photo: Mike KwasniakTodd Heppenstall and Emma Barclay in the Eastern Angles Christmas show The Ladykillers of Humber Doucy Lane. Photo: Mike Kwasniak

“We want to invite audiences to join in and take the journey with us – that’s part of what the Eastern Angles Christmas Show is all about. People come to the Christmas show wanting to join in and clearly we don’t want to dissuade anyone from doing just that. It’s not about picking on people in the audience, it’s about harnessing the audiences’ imagination and taking them with us.

“I love it when an actor holds up a door frame and the audience imagines the rest of the room – that’s inventive and fun and the fact that the audience is so close, it makes the communication easier, you can certainly see the whites of their eyes.”

Tim’s enthusiasm for the play is certainly matched by the actors. Daniel Copeland, who plays the dim heavy, Scar Feet, is relishing the freedom that this carefree production offers him as an actor. “The great thing about this version of The Ladykillers is that it is a lot sillier than the original film plus there is a lot of singing and dancing which gives it a slightly surreal feel to it which every Christmas show needs. Also it’s got pace. It fairly zips along.”

This is echoed by Keshini Misha, who plays a criminal with a self-esteem issue. “None of the criminals actually want to be criminals. I think that’s the big difference between our show and the film – in the film they are genuine crooks. We just want to be loved.”

So with only five people in the cast, is there a lot of doubling up and hat swapping for the actors? She laughs in recognition at the age-old theatrical convention. “Actually there’s not a lot of hat swapping this year, we, by and large, all play one character but we are in disguise. So it has a slightly different feel to most shows of this sort. It’s been very cleverly adapted and it has some real emotion to it. In the film, all the criminals meet a grisly end but in ours everyone kind of falls in love with them, so our ending is a little different but is just as emotionally satisfying.”

Tim echoes this. He believes that for a Christmas show to successfully work, the audience has to suspend their disbelief and actively embrace the mayhem. He adds that audiences don’t need to be familiar with the original film in order to enjoy the show.

“If the audience has memories of the original film then it will be a richer experience but it’s a modern story, that stands on its own, without any reference to the film that inspired it. We have set our play in the present, it’s not a 1950s nostalgia piece, but many of the characters have their counterpart in the original film. They provide a rich ground for comedy – which is really what inspired us. It all comes back to that idea of inviting the audience along for the ride, you harness their imagination and that’s the beauty of theatre.”

The Ladykillers Of Humber Doucy Lane is at the Sir John Mills Theatre until January 6; then at Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge from January 9-20.

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