The Lavender Hill Mob
Adapted for the stage by Phil Porter,
based on the screenplay by T.E.B. Clarke
By arrangement with StudioCanal
Theatr Clwyd, Mold
October 25-29, 2022; 1hr 45min
This is a jolly caper. A retelling of the classic Ealing Studios film, one of 15 ranked by the Vatican, no less, as Art with a capital "A".
It's a rattling good story, set in Rio de Janeiro on New Year’s Eve in 1949, at a party attended by assorted dignitaries including the British Ambassador. Central is Henry Holland (Miles Jupp) who has been telling his story of masterminding a bullion robbery and getting away with it often and with great panache. This time he is recounting it in front of a mystery guest – and such is his generosity and charisma, those present join in the telling with glee.
It is of course a classic cops and robber drama, but as it is set in post-war, still-rationed Britain, the cops are clever and indefatigable, even though they have been temporarily outwitted, and the villains are plucky eccentrics, stiff-upper-lip types who break the mould, or cheeky chappies.
There is a resultant feelgood factor to the play and all is well at the end, with justice seen to be done and thankfully no trace of modern, gritty reality; just self-parodying humour bordering at times on slapstick. It's all very entertaining.
The set is clever - a palm tree doubles as the Eiffel Tower – and the acting is great. I particularly enjoyed Lady Agnes (Tessa Churchard) and Audrey (Victoria Blunt), who take on several roles from posh to cockney, always funny.
Above all, the character of Henry Holland is terrific. For 20 years a model of routine and reliability, he is one of the faceless bowler hats that cross London Bridge at 8.30am every day. He's passed over for promotion because he is dependable but unimaginative.
But lurking beneath that facade is the Henry who has masterminded a robbery, avoided capture and is splashing his cash in Rio - before accepting his fate and the long arm of the law. It's great to see him emerge from his mundane existence into a more colourful life while retaining his gentlemanly manner. A delightful role handled with great charm by Jupp – a man born to play vicars and middle-class gents - and his opposite number, Eiffel Tower maker Alfred (Justin Edwards)...
The theatre was full for opening night, thanks perhaps to both a well-loved film and passionate support for a theatre that continues to present high-class drama during a period of fundamental change.
Yet again, a fulfilling night of true entertainment in Mold.
Tickets and Information here