Monday 22nd October 2018 at The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds.
Like most great farces, Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is all very simple…until it isn’t, which happens approximately sixty seconds in.
In this town, ‘everyone’s a crook’ local bank teller Ruth tells us – and she should know – her son Sam is living three lives at once, and each with light fingers! Also in the vicinity is convict Mitch, who has his sights set on robbing the local bank, run by the comically cantankerous Mr Robin Freeboys, guarded by a useless guard and the workplace of the hilarious Ruth and Warren. Mitch enlists the help of walking chaos in the shape of copper Neil Cooper and also manages to rope in Mr Freeboy’s wayward daughter Caprice, unwittingly involving another chameleon crook (Sam) in the mix. And just in case that’s not enough to keep us gripped, an FBI Agent swoops in to ask a few questions…
From here, there are wires crossed and tangled into shredded knots, quick-changes galore and plenty of ludicrous shenanigans flitting about the stage. It’s clever enough to get you grinning ear to ear both in terms of scripting and staging and although I have, admittedly, found the previous work of Mischief Theatre slightly funnier, there’s no denying that their top notch comedy and impressive production values are as fantastically entertaining here as has come to be expected – and the cast is so thoroughly brilliant that I will be including a rare and deserved roll call of talent forthwith!
Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have a real penchant and flair for puns and running jokes which just keep on giving. The physical comedy is also outstanding, with timing and visual gags leaving us with bated breath, compelling each character forward to avoid certain failure/injury/fatality as appropriate; disaster looms and dire consequences are avoided by seconds; characters get out of scrapes by the very tips of their eyelashes and all the while we will them to keep the game afoot just a little longer…
Even when it’s at its most silly and its most comic, this show somehow manages to create great tension before sledgehammering it with a reprise of one of our running jokes with the whole thing done so beautifully smoothly that it’s a little mind-boggling.
Characters are decidedly stock, and the writing team excel in their writings of fools, with Neil and Warren being two glittering examples. David Coomber’s Neil is thoroughly hilarious and a real highlight; camp to the very edge of being over-played and hopelessly well-meaning but idiotic, he’s comedy gold. Jon Trenchard’s Warren is the nerdy, weedy, geeky invisible type who happens to be the most tragically sincere of souls – despite being one of the most unfortunate men on earth, he remains eternally, pathetically and endearingly optimistic.
The third source of the imbecilic brand of comedy falls to George Hannigan who literally plays ‘Everyone Else’ and delivers a perfect fool performance as the useless guard before performing a genius sequence in which he channels three men in an argument together…he and his physical comedy are simply brilliant. The hybrid fool is Mr Robin Freeboys himself, a man so self-assured that he lets himself get caught up in the shenanigans without ever knowing it. Damien Lynch’s characterisation places Freeboys firmly in the position of the risible boss type who is too mean to deserve our sympathy but who is also pleasingly brutal and stand-offish with the thoroughbred fools for our viewing delight.
But whose plans are these fools scuppering? Why, the clever criminal masterminds who must think on their feet, adapt to every shifting scenario and most importantly, have the audacity and the conviction to claim the impossible with total composure and assertion of course! Eddy Westbury is perfect for Mitch – he’s got the stereotypical crim accent delivered in a gruff voice down, channelling every baddie from every modern heist movie to offer up a real hardened criminal for inspection…only to then have to revert to a typical guy keen to impress a girl’s dad. Great stuff.
Dave Hearn is also superb; the physicality, the timing, the reactions and the delivery are just perfect and along with Julia Frith, who plays a blinder as Caprice, the shameless tricksters propel the narrative forward at full and unrelenting speed. It’s often Hearn and Frith’s reactions to the unfolding nightmarish situations which tip us over from a grin or a restrained laugh to a free guffaw – and that energy never wavers despite playing the most demanding roles of the piece.
Sam’s mother Ruth is played by the fantastic Ashley Tucker who is another wonderful source of comedy – the prim and mumsy 50s type who has all the answers at work but not for the offspring toying with a life of real crime – and Tucker also shines by offering up the vocals for some of the quirky musical segues used throughout, proving her pipes to be as big as her wig…it’s no wonder Officer Randal Shuck takes a fancy to Ruth, giving Killian Macardle the opportunity to play a role both hilariously self-important and overly imposing yet simultaneously coy and flirtatious… and what a combination that is!
Yet this cast is not the only source of hilarity and creative genius on stage, for David Farley’s set designs, particularly for a sequence with a foldaway bed and another taking us through the bank’s vents (beautifully accompanied by David Howe’s lighting designs) are thrillingly original and perfectly executed – just when you think you’ve seen it all, Farley surprises with perspective sorcery to impress and delight.
If you’re game for a laugh at silly goings-on and downright ridiculousness which just keeps going… and going, you won’t be disappointed here – it’s pacy quirky fun and fiasco for the duration, so catch it if you can!
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery was originally directed by Mark Bell and Kirsty Patrick Ward directs this tour. The show is presented by Kenny Wax and Stage Presence Ltd in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre. The show runs at The Grand Theatre and Opera House, Leeds until October 27th 2018 and you can find tickets here. The show will then continue its UK tour until June 8th 2019 and you can find tickets here.