The Comedy About A Bank Robbery – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Writer: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields

Director: Kirsty Patrick Ward

Reviewer: Selwyn Knight

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is a fast-moving, farcical piece of nonsense that has the audience laughing almost from the very start. Ostensibly a send-up of the heist movie, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery includes such stalwarts of Mischief Theatre’s style as slick visual gags, slapstick, physical comedy (the scene where three long-distance suitors to Julia Frith’s Caprice Freeboys, all played by George Hannigan, get into fisticuffs is a particular joy), clever wordplay, mistaken identity, trouser-dropping, running gags, expertly-timed entrances and exits and, even, pretty breath-taking gravity-defying stunts as our protagonists seek to find their way into and through the bank to steal a diamond. Along the way, there’s also plenty of romantic entanglements between characters that somehow get resolved by the end.

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery may mine similar comedy seams as such productions as One Man, Two Guvnors, Airplane!, The 39 Steps, even The Comedy of Errors, but it’s by no means a rehash of any of them. Rather, it takes existing elements and expertly spins them into something at once familiar and new. The upshot is that one is laughing so hard at one piece of business that one is worried something else might have passed you by: this show is likely to bear repeated viewings to try to capture all its tricks.

The plot is thin, but its lack of substance is really not an issue. It’s generally internally consistent, but really, it just offers a framework for a sequence of sketch-like episodes that allow the cast every opportunity to show off their comedic skills – which they do with consummate skill. Mischief has the happy knack of taking a gag and stretching it almost to breaking point – then stretching it a bit more. One or two maybe outstay their welcome a little – some clever wordplay around Robin Freeboys and ‘robbing three boys’, for example – but in general, it’s well-judged and Kirsty Patrick Ward’s tour direction ensures that the pace barely slips below frantic.

Even so, there are still a few poignant moments, for example, when Robin Freeboys, the bank manager, confesses to liking his long-standing intern Warren Slax.

The energetic young cast includes a few new faces fresh from drama school and all invest their performances with energy and verve. While the characters may be stereotypes, the performances are more nuanced so we find ourselves beginning to care about them and their interactions. Above all, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is an ensemble piece in which everyone has a chance to shine – the bluster of Damian Lynch’s Robin Freeboys, the nicely pathetic loyalty of Jon Trenchard’s Warren Slax, the mother/son battles between well-meaning Ruth Monaghan (Ashley Tucker) and off-the-rails but good-at-heart son Sam (Seán Carey) and the gangster mastermind Liam Jeavons’ Mitch Riscutti and his moll Caprice Freeboys (Julia Frith) – all work together well.

Also worthy of note is David Farley’s set design with vertigo-inducing forced perspective and interiors that somehow open like flowers even as we watch. Farley must take considerable credit for the slickness of the production and its transitions.

The comedy in The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is more belly-laugh than wry amusement – but it does, as they say, do exactly what it says on the tin. Another triumph for Mischief Theatre.

Runs Until 8 September 2018 and on tour  | Image: Robert Day

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Madcap Mayhem from Mischief

The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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