THE COMEDY ABOUT A BANK ROBBERY AT THE ARTS THEATRE
This is a humdinger of a show- a massive hit everywhere it sets up stage, Audiences are packed ready for guaranteed laugh-out loud lines. On tour it plays to venues as far flung as Dublin Sheffield Lancaster and Liverpool. And everywhere it travels fans are waiting to crowd out the first nights.
Little wonder. The Comedy about a Bank Robbery is a bit of a franchise. Its writers hit comedy gold back in 2013 with The Play that goes Wrong still at the Duchess Theatre in the West End and winner of an Olivier Award for Excellence. It is a mega money- spinner, a comedy that keeps coming and turning out audiences across, unbelievably every continent in the world save for Antarctica – as the Mischief Theatre remarks, those penguins don’t know what they’re missing,
It all evolved from a series of improvisations. ‘Mischief emerged when a group of students from LAMDA – The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art - launched onto the scene in the inauspicious year of 2008. Whilst economies were teetering on the brink of collapse and stock markets hovered near destruction, comedy was clearly an antidote to disaster By 2009 the group had fashioned ‘’Lights Camera Improvise’ into a show – at one gig they record, the cast outnumbered the audience – but when they hit Edinburgh the very next year it was to scoop a prize as best improv act and they toured the show to Manchester – and Poland where they claim they performed in a wardrobe. “Still it’s bigger than our rehearsal space” quips Harry Venning’s cartoon account of Mischief History. In 2013 ‘ The Murder before Christmas’ morphed into the still running Play that goes Wrong’. From then on it was glorious success all the way even an appearance at the Royal Variety Show before Prince Harry. Everything that goes wrong was going spectacularly right with follow up scripts like The Comedy about a Bank Robbery. Garlanded with awards, the original PTGW is on Broadway and winner of the Theatre Fans Award.
So what is it about this team that gives their productions the Midas touch?
Well they are very funny. At times during the ‘Bank Robbery’ the actors had the audience shaking with laughter. Borrowed from material as antique as French Feydeau and his famous farces, the bedroom sequences are familiar: Bullish boyfriend - the convincingly aggressive Mitch played by Liam Jeavons - arrives as his partner in crime is half way through a seduction of con man Sam played with comic flair by a personable Seán Carey. Sam hides in the cupboard above the bed – athletically reaching for his shoes as Caprice the mobster’ s gal attempts to manoevre him out of the room whilst making love to her long-gone guy. Julia Frith as Caprice is remarkably gifted. Throughout the play she fields her three telephone lovers with split-second timing and in this scene – the best in the show – she wrestles the lustful Mitch into submission– and all from a compromisingly horizontal position. And she can sing. The songs in the play do keep the atmosphere rangy and ropey and fun – none better at it than Julie Cullen who plays Ruth, Sam’s devoted mother. She can really belt out jazz numbers with fabulous professional precision and pizzazz. Without this musical infrastructure I fear the action would flag.
It’s not that it isn’t funny. The comic capers are superb. And if they do derive from old favourites like mistaken identity and men losing their trousers, they are still completely hilarious. The hot jazz numbers and the hotter women belting them out sustain a sleazy menace badly needed if the entire complex structure is not to atomize into a series of gags and skits.
The characters are super competent and compelling. Jon Trenchard as Warren Slex the oppressed bank manager’s assistant (“ I pay you as an intern” - “ But I’ve been here for thirty years”) He is pure theatre to his fingertips and convincing as well as comic. David Coomber as the hapless Neil Cooper desperate to be in on the action and with a brilliant talent for turning a corny line into a good laugh. Damian Lynch as the older Bank Manager is excellent providing a proper gravitas to his role. I had to look at his programme picture again to check his identity – he looks truly old on stage. And Killian Macardle as Officer Shuck keeps up a tough front as the one man of integrity in the entire enterprise. Until the end.
And the sets and staging are out of this world brilliant. When the robbers are moving through the ventilation shaft below the stage, the perspective is so intriguing a super-architect could not have done better in presenting the office below (above in reality).
Yet the central believability of the characters and the plot is missing from this play. It is more a sequence of capers – brilliantly done though they are – with no centre. Yet even so it is such a celebration of theatre and of acting prowess with gags agogo - the brilliance of the set and skill of the actors has to compensate for the lack of solid plot. And by and large they do.