The Comedy About a Bank Robbery

Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
Mischief Theatre, Kenny Wax, Stage Presence Limited and Birmingham Repertory Theatre
The Lowry, Salford
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Mischief Theatre tackles the challenge of following-up some of the best comedies to grace the stage in recent years with confidence and style. The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is a marked departure from the Company’s early works. There is move away from contemporary UK-based settings and a fondness for theatrical in-jokes towards what, initially at least, appears a more conventional method of storytelling.

The Comedy about a Bank Robbery is set in late 1950s / early 1960s Minneapolis where crime is rampant. Escaped convict Mitch (Liam Jeavons) plans to steal the Maguvin diamond but his sidekick Neil (David Coomber) is more a liability than an asset. Robin Freeboys (Damian Lynch), the manager of the bank where the diamond is stored, is corrupt and, to conceal his own misdemeanours, has arranged extra security. Freeboy’s daughter Caprice (Julia Frith) is a confidence trickster and has fallen in love with pick-pocket Sam (Sean Carey) but neglected to mention that she is also Mitch’s girlfriend. What could possibly go wrong?

Although the Mission Impossible-style parody promised by the posters is delivered in the second act, authors Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields seem more influenced by classic comedies than by thrillers. Scenes involving a character being repeatedly struck about the head or exasperation arising from misunderstandings about a person’s name bring to mind classic Three Stooges routines and Abbott and Costello’s "Who’s on first" gag.

There is a noticeable move towards verbal humour to supplement the slapstick gags that Mischief Theatre has used so well in the past. This is not to say the physical humour is ignored but the manner of presentation has changed. While the Company’s previous plays drew humour from malfunctioning props, this time there is a more sophisticated approach—George Hannigan plays three separate characters and, at one point, performs a gloriously silly fist fight between them.

The first act is the more conventional; the period is set with doo-wop songs performed live by Ashley Tucker making the most of her move up from understudy. Yet even with the musical numbers, humour shines through—a Gospel choir has the moment that secretly we have always longed to see: a member who cannot quite get the dance moves right.

The second act is close to comedy gold as the plot threads from the first act are spun together. It may seem a strange thing to praise in a comedy troupe but what is particularly impressive about the cast is their discipline.

David Fairley’s sets are assembled like flat-pack furniture while the action is underway but his masterpiece is designing a set creating the illusion we are looking at an office from the viewpoint of robbers crawling through overhead air vents. For the scene to work, the cast playing the office workers are positioned on the walls of the theatre held in place by wires and casually performing daily tasks while ignoring the fact that gravity is causing havoc. It is the comedy highpoint leading to stunning verbal and physical punchlines.

The Comedy about a Bank Robbery is so good it leaves the audience wondering if Mischief Theatre can continue to improve and really looking forward to finding out.

David Cunningham