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‘Riotous’ Lavender Hill Mob at Cambridge Arts Theatre

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In this riotous stage version of The Lavender Hill Mob (a beloved Ealing Comedy film from 1951), eight actors are on stage the whole of the time and they act their hearts out.

Miles Jupp, who plays the “nonentity” bank clerk who, camouflaged in his bowler hat, robs the Bank of England is magnificent. He inhabits the character and makes him real.

The Lavender Hill Mob is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 21.

The other seven play multiple roles, varying from giggling English school girls to sardonic French customs officers to English landladies, to corr blimey robbers from Lundan.

It’s all kaleidoscopic and a lot of fun.

The play opens with Jupp’s character, Henry Holland in a nightclub in Rio de Janeiro on New Year’s Eve. Francis O’Connor’s set has plenty of nostalgia for old England: a picture of a very young King George VI, Winston Churchill, Big Ben, Shakespeare – a glass case with a tennis racket and cricket bat.

A film director arrives who says he wants to make a movie about the man who stole gold bullion from under the police’s nose.

He wants to know how it was done – so Jupp’s Henry Holland tells the story, and the other customers obligingly play all the other characters in the tale.

The Lavender Hill Mob is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 21.

Holland, known as dull and trustworthy, is noted by his employers as a meticulous worker, fussy about detail. He is responsible to making sure the vanloads of gold bullion are safely ferried from where they are made to the bank vaults.

He gets on the vans himself. He secretly cherishes a plan of stealing the gold but cannot work out how to get it out of the county, knowing he would not be able to sell it in Britain.

Holland lives in a lodging house in Lavender Hill where one night he meets a new fellow tenant, called Pendlebury (played exquisitely by Justin Edwards) who makes “presents from” souvenirs, mostly models of European monuments. Pendlebury is (says Holland) “The bow to my arrow, the Bonnie to my Clyde, the cracker to my cheese.”

The Lavender Hill Mob is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 21.

Between them they work out a plan to steal the gold. They recruit a couple of professional thieves to help them with the initial robbery and, having melted it down, they will ship it out to Paris as solid gold-models of the Eifel Tower.

All the twists and turns of the original story are faithfully recreated on stage including several flights from the police, screeching vans and get-away cars, climbing a giant Eifel tower and a visit to girls’ school to retrieve a batch of the pure gold models pupils have been sold by mistake at a French gift shop.

Plaudits to the multiple-role chameleons, Guy Burgess, Tessa Churchard, John Dougall, Victoria Blunt, Tim Sutton, and Aamira Challenger who all entertain with great aplomb.

Interviewed on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, when it was put to him that parts of the show were “a bit silly” Jupp replied: “It isn’t Hamlet”.  That’s probably what’s wrong with Hamlet – it’s always taken far too seriously.

This cast would liven it up.

Written by Phil Porter and directed by Jeremy Sams, here is a diverting show with gentle humour throughout, skilfully acted.

The Lavender Hill Mob is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, January 21.

 

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