The wheels of post-war industry were briefly halted on Monday during the opening Edinburgh date of Graham Linehan's new take on William Robinson and Alexander Mackendrick's classic 1954 Ealing comedy. When designer Michael Taylor's elaborate set got stuck on the revolve as Shaun Williamson's crazed Romanian gangster was supposed to be clambering out of the upstairs window of old Mrs Wilberforce's topsy-turvy house, it not only added an accidental comic frisson. It also inadvertently symbolised how an entire country was attempting to push its way towards a new society, but was collectively unable to budge.
This is perfect for a play chock-full of little Englander archetypes attempting a King's Cross bank heist planned from the seeming sanctity of Mrs Wilberforce's upstairs room. A cross-dressing major, a pill-popping spiv, a psychopathic immigrant and a lunk-headed ex-boxer are brought together by Professor Marcus, the self-styled brains of the operation. As the quintet masquerade themselves as a musical troupe, they first charm Mrs Wilberforce before blowing their cover, falling prey to their own self-interest while accidentally inventing modernist composition en route
Linehan and director Sean Foley have upped the ante of Robinson and Mackendrick's already dark comedy considerably in their reinvention of the original. Regardless of the second-act technical glitch, Taylor's set actually is a marvel, as is the heist itself, played out in miniature with remote control cars racing recklessly around the house's front wall. The performances are a mannered set of caricatures with edge. While Paul Bown's Professor Marcus is the seemingly respectable side of crime, it's more telling that its Michelle Dotrice's Mrs Wilberforce who survives, her old money getting newer by the day.
The Herald, November 7th 2012