The Comedy About a Bank Robbery

Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
Mischief Theatre
Criterion Theatre

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Henry Shields (Mitch Ruscitti), Charlie Russell (Caprice Freeboys) Credit: Darren Bell
Henry Lewis (Robin Freeboys), Jonathan Sayer (Warren Slax), Henry Shields (Mitch Ruscitti) Credit: Darren Bell
Top to bottom - Dave Hearn (Sam Monaghan), Henry Shields (Mith Ruscitti), Charlie Russell (Caprice Freeboys) Credit: Darren Bell

Anyone who has seen The Play that Goes Wrong or Peter Pan Goes Wrong will have been eagerly anticipating this latest brainchild of the inventive Mischief Theatre.

Recollections of wall-to-wall laughter plus the descriptive title almost render reviews of this latest invention unnecessary.

As with their other successes, the creative team has not only written this 2½-hour farce but stars in it. For those that do not know the history, pretty much the whole cast seem to have met at LAMDA, and three of them came up with the idea of getting laughs from improvised comedy and the hilarity of failure.

The plot on this occasion is standard 1950s screwball comedy fare as a hunky crook, co-writer Henry Shields as Mitch Ruscitti, escapes from gaol and, with the assistance of Greg Tannahill playing his hopeless former prison guard accomplice, plots a Mission Impossible-type heist on a Minneapolis bank run by another member of the writing team: Henry Lewis’s larger-than-life Robin Freeboys.

His sexy, sexed-up moll just happens to be the manager's daughter Caprice, portrayed with delicious comic timing by Charlie Russell, while their main associate is the son of another bank employee. In this latter role of Sam Monaghan, Dave Hearn once again shows his agility and ability to keep a straight face in the face of all corpsing provocation.

That is the framework for a script that is packed with gags of every kind, exemplified by the three corny jokes that warm up the audience within the first minute.

This company has built its reputation on meticulous planning and a willingness to bombard the audience with opportunities for laughter, accepting that there will be a few misses littered amongst the multiple hits. They also love low-budget props, courtesy of Saturn technical designers David Farley and Alan Bartlett, which provide some of the funniest moments of the production.

Whatever your comic tastes, there will be much to please. The sight gags are exceptional, in particular a farcical bedroom scene and office turned through 90°, not to mention traditional mistaken identity scenes wickedly subverted.

Almost as good are a couple of verbal routines reminiscent of Abbott and Costello on top form, while the cast members bravely throw themselves around in the cause of slapstick from the opening gun to the finishing line.

While he doesn't have the largest part, co-writer Jonathan Sayer deserves extravagant praise for his willingness to play the oft-beaten (literally) fall guy, where his pals get the sexier (and safer) roles.

It's a matter of taste but, given its derivative nature, this play may not be quite as good as the other two but that is a minor quibble when each of the three should be close to the top of every theatregoer's must-see list, though they might have to patiently await the Yuletide season to see Peter Pan again.

In summary, anyone that needs cheering up should pop along to the lovely, compact Criterion Theatre for a dose of energising laughter.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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