Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Director: Mark Bell
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
This show does what it says on the poster. It is (loosely) about a bank robbery but it is (most definitely) a comedy. In fact, it should probably renamed A (Very Funny) Comedy about a Bank Robbery. Still home at The Criterion Theatre in the West End, where it has been since 2016, Mischief Theatre are very early into a nine-month UK tour of a show that is every bit as good as their two previous smash hits.
The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong have been so successful for Mischief Theatre, formed by graduating LAMDA graduates from 2009, that the former is now performed on every continent of the globe. They have become the masters of farce and wringing out the comedy from the old adage “that the show must go on” despite everything falling apart around them. Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields wisely do not try to copy this format for a third time. Rather, A Comedy About a Bank Robbery is just that – a genuinely very funny farcical romp about a bunch of not so bright individuals all trying to steal a diamond from the Minneapolis bank’s vault.
Robin Freeboys (Damian Lynch), the dastardly manager of the bank, has an equally immoral daughter Caprice (Julia Frith)who rinses cheques with sob stories from every Tom, Dick or Harry she can woo. When another likely subject in the form of Sam (Sean Carey), a low-life pickpocket and compulsive liar, walks into her life the ridiculousness begins to step up when her hardened criminal boyfriend Mitch (Liam Jeavons) busts out of prison. With a vague plot to rob the bank of Prince Ludvig of Hungary’s priceless jewel, this is all the story needed to sustain the chaos unleashed onstage. The rest is sheer comedic brilliance.
Quite how Mischief Theatre cram so many gags into one show is remarkable and must be a contender for a world record of laughs per minute. At warp speed, it is impossible to catch every laugh as by doing so there may be another couple of jokes you miss! From the very opening lines we are treated to delicious wordplay worthy of a Tim Vine routine and with a central character called Mr. Freeboys the confusion and nonsense around whether characters are talking to him or three boys becomes a running gag throughout the show. With a stick-on moustache and a walking stick it becomes so daft that anyone can be mistaken for Mr. Freeboys! This gives a flavour of the utter silliness of the show as a whole. Any fans of Police Squad or The Naked Gun starring Leslie Nielson may appreciate the reckless idiocy. A gag every few seconds Mischief Theatre and original director Mark Bell throw everything at this heist: mistaken identity, wordplay, slapstick
A gag every few seconds Mischief Theatre and original director Mark Bell throw everything at this heist: mistaken identity, wordplay, slapstick and dramatic irony, but it is the exquisite clockwork timing that is the key to any farce. Slamming doors, a couple of hundred entrances and exits, flipping beds, characters dangling out of windows or being stuffed in cupboards are just some of the ridiculous antics squashed into this fantastic production. Mischief Theatre seem to be able to do it all with microseconds to spare.
Set in small-town Minneapolis in the late 1950s there is a gorgeous swing/rock n roll score to accompany the show too. With such slick scene changes performed with beautiful acapella harmonisation, even those are a joy to watch. David Farley’s set, is something very special as we move from Caprice’s flat to the bank and eventually to the vault. But, there is one scene in this play that, without giving anything away, is such an incredible piece of staging that one’s perspective on things can, literally, be turned on its head.
Mischief Theatre deserves all the plaudits that have been, and are still being thrown their way over the last few years. To their credit, they have realised that their party trick would not sustain a third outing and, instead, have written and delivered a comedy is as priceless as the jewel everyone is trying to get their hands on. Forget Prince Ludvig’s diamond; get your hands on tickets for this instead!
Runs until 15 September 2018 | Image: Contributed