Writers: Henry Lewis / Jonathan Sayer / Henry Shields
Director: Kirsty Patrick Ward
Reviewer: Helen Tope
The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is a play that challenges our expectations right from the start. From the same company that brought us The Play that Goes Wrong, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery leaves behind the world of amateur dramatics and goes pro.
Set in fifties America, we join a couple of convicts about to break out of prison, in order to steal a fabulous $500,000 diamond. Kept locked in a bank vault, the convicts set their eyes on the prize, with help from prison guards on the take. The game is simple: find the codes to the vault, and unlock the diamond.
Convict Mitch Ruscitti takes the lead, manipulating not-so-ex girlfriend Caprice Freeboys (Julia Frith) and her new man, Sam Monaghan (Sean Carey) into helping him execute the plan. As you might expect, things don’t quite work out.
What is immediately noticeable in this play is the upping of production values. The changes between scenes are just as haphazard as you would want, but rather than embedding itself in slapstick, Bank Robbery goes back to the narrative. As a result, a connection between the audience and cthe ast is made. We get to grips with the characters in far more depth: the no-good jailbird, the pickpocket and the woman caught between them.
The play moves from slapstick to farce, with slamming doors and mistaken identities. Gaffes and gags are delivered at a relentless speed. As we move from set-up to heist, the action is told through characters who wrong-foot us every time, and the play similarly takes our expectations of Mischief Theatre’s back catalogue and neatly inverts them. The result is a play on a whole different level. Even down to the mishaps – played big and bold in The Play that Goes Wrong – here, they are delicious, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them moments. The clumsy hits, the tie removed mid-scene – the mistakes layer up to create an effect of wonderfully organised chaos. The actors may not trust that they’ll get to curtain call, but we do.
With the enormous success of The Play that Goes Wrong, there was nowhere else to go in terms of shaky sets and forgotten lines. Mischief Theatre has resisted the temptation to rehash a formula that works, in favour of going bigger and better. The ambition shown in this production is nowhere more evident than in its staging. From classic farce set-ups to an impressive 3D set piece that tests the actors’ dexterity and nerve, The Comedy about a Bank Robbery moves on from its am-dram roots and blows the budget. The use of space is both inspired and incredible.
In a show packed with great performances, picking a favourite is a tricky business. As convict Mitch Ruscitti, Liam Jeavons oozes wrong-side-of-the-tracks charm and charisma; and his polar opposite, the sweetly gullible Warren Stax (Jon Trenchard), is played with such conviction, it makes his fate all the more touching.
This was not the play this reviewer was expecting – The Comedy about a Bank Robbery is not only an exciting departure from form but a significant one too. Bank Robbery shifts from the primary boldness of The Play that Goes Wrong into subtler tones. The laughs are still there, but there’s a joy in watching a play that almost, nearly, gets it right. The story of a jewel heist has been done, true enough. But this production offers you something more; a story filled with character, wit and a cautionary twist in the tale. Magnetic and near-impossible to resist, this is a perfect crime caper, imperfectly told.
Runs until Saturday 6 October 2018 | Image: Contributed