REVIEW: The Ladykillers, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until October 20.

You can’t imagine Major Courtney in the 1955 film version of The Ladykillers slowly succumbing to a penchant for cross-dressing.

But then again, you just have to accept we’re in 2012 now and Graham Linehan’s new stage adaptation of the classic tale is playing to a completely different audience.

Gone is the sinisterness so crucial to the movie, so much a part of the characters embodied by Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom et al; instead Linehan goes all out for comedy – a different take for a different era, and thoroughly enjoyable too.

It seems churlish to point out that Michele Dotrice is far too robust for the frail little old lady who unwittingly offers her home to a band of desperate criminals masquerading as a chamber quintet.

Best to judge the performance on the night, and it’s a lovely performance Dotrice gives, with beautiful comic timing, if not quite the frailty that the role surely demands.

Shaun Williamson (Extras and EastEnders) goes Italian to play the gangster of the piece and acquits himself nicely; meanwhile Clive Mantle (Casualty and The Vicar of Dibley) discovers a completely different side to the poor Major and delivers it with comic aplomb.

Masterminding it all – but outwitted by Mrs Wilberforce’s innocence and naivety at every turn - is Paul Bown as Professor Marcus – and here the role really does cry out for rather more nastiness than Bown or Linehan are prepared to give it.

But there’s no denying it is beautifully staged, Mrs Wilberforce’s crooked track-side house rendered with loving detail and the heist itself most cleverly done.

And the concert they never gave (well, in the film at least) brings the house down either side of the interval. Nothing is missed in the chase for laughs; and while one might argue that too much of the original has been lost, there’s no denying it’s funny – very funny, in fact.

Phil Hewitt