The award-winning Mischief Theatre now have not one, but two productions on London’s West End; the most recent of which is The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. Set in 1950s America, it centres around a plot to rob a small-town bank. Convicted criminal, Mitch Ruscitti (played by understudy Gareth Tempest at my performance), enlists the help of prison guard Cooper to escape from jail and steal Prince Ludwig’s diamond. As expected, with Mischief Theatre’s pedigree, complications quickly develop and things don’t go according to plan…
Unlike the Olivier-winning The Play That Goes Wrong, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery attempts to tell more of a story, whilst still enlisting Mischief Theatre’s trademark blend of slapstick & wordplay. There are a great many strands to the story, with numerous subplots competing with the main storyline of the bank robbery: from Caprice’s many suitors, to Mrs Monaghan’s involvement with Officer Shuck. As such, all of these plots have to be tied up before the play ends, so it perhaps goes on a little too long – and it does take a while to get to the eponymous robbery. That being said, it is extremely funny and full of twists & turns.
David Farley’s set holds up well to the many challenges it faces throughout the play, and makes excellent use of the Criterion’s stage. This does mean that patrons on the very end of a row miss some moments, but it’s not enough to confuse the events of the play – and you can well imagine what’s happening on the sidelines! The design is particularly inventive as the robbers move through the ducts, and we look down on Warren & Mr Freeboys in the office.
It has a really authentic feel of the 50s to it, from Roberto Surace’s costume design, to the musical interludes (courtesy of Joey Hickman as MD, as well as Jon Fiber’s sound design). Upon entering the auditorium, you are greeted with a soundtrack of classic rock ‘n’ roll tracks being played by a fictional radio station (this continues in the interval) – and throughout the show the cast sing a variety of doo-wop style songs. This proves particularly effective in transitioning between scenes, and shows off Nancy Wallinger’s stunning vocals.
The cast is filled with Mischief Theatre regulars, ensuring that their vision for the show is in safe hands. Henry Lewis is a powerful presence, putting his booming voice to good use as the authoritative Mr Freeboys – and forms an entertaining double act with Jonathan Sayer as his ageing intern Warren. Sayer’s commitment to physical comedy & slapstick (at one point quite literally being slapped with a stick) is admirable, and provides a good deal of laughs.
Charlie Russell plays Caprice, Mr Freeboys’ daughter, and is hilariously manipulative towards her many & varied suitors (all in the name of paying the rent). A particular highlight comes in the first half, as she attempts to give Sam (Dave Hearn) personal information about Mr Freeboys in order to convince Mitch (her boyfriend) that Sam is in fact her father! Hearn’s efforts to hide (and, later, leave), upon Mitch’s unexpected arrival are also hysterical, as he continually gets himself into trickier situations.
My verdict? A ridiculous, but highly enjoyable, show that is another hit for Mischief Theatre – a new gem of a comedy on London’s West End.
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery runs at the Criterion Theatre until 23 April 2017. Tickets are available online and from the box office. It is also one of the many shows participating in Kids Week 2016.