A Comedy About A Bank Robbery
The Criterion Theatre
Tickets from £12.50
With their prior (and still running after four years) play The Play That Goes Wrong, the Lamda theatrical group Mischief Theatre managed to strike farcical gold. Focusing on a wholly inept group of actors totally murdering a murder-mystery in a comedic tour de force that hilariously broke down the barrier between actor and role in a clever turn twist on Noises Off ‘play within a play’ conceit. Their most recent piece A Comedy About A Bank Robbery boldly left behind the this framework (that the a lesser company would have happily run into the ground) by replacing it with some of the most amazing comedy staging to be found around the world.
Written by Mischief founders Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, the play portrays, in the style of a 50s Hollywood comedy, an attempt by a Canadian gang to steal a fabulously expensive diamond from a Minneapolis bank. The show (which has just put a new cast into action) is perhaps slightly broader than it needs to be in its script (there’s a lot of conversations that play on Airplane style ‘don’t call me Shirley’ style misunderstandings.) but the new cast prove themselves incredibly athletically game, particularly in a vertiginous section where the perspective flips and the actors are seen clinging desperately to a horizontal set that stands out at a 90 degree angle from the back wall of the theatre.
By riffing on the Hollywood classics (along with a healthy dollop of Police Squad), Mischief Theatre have succeeded in creating a genuinely berserk vision of the 1950s reduced to its most absurd clichés (even down to an almost Lynchian sprinkling of live do-wop number) of leather jacketed hoods, volcanic authority figures with suitably preposterous accents and manic car-chases (done rather entertainingly on the cheap with cast members being wheeled around on office chairs). The jokes, if corny, succeed due to their sheer number, the sheer weight of numbers mean that it’s actively difficult not to walk out with a rather manic smile. Of the new cast Steffan Lloyd-Evans is the clear stand out, possessed of both a winning leading man charisma and superb capacity for physical comedy, whose first half ending show stopper where a frantic impersonation of Foghorn Leghorn voiced Bank Manager Freeboys (himself played with manic Southern brio by Steffan Lloyd-Evans) gone wrong reduced your humble review to tears of laughter.
Whilst it certainly isn’t a particularly deep play, it’s game commitment to screwball insanity is to be commended, particularly during London’s current tense atmosphere where kooky laughs seem to be rather discouraged. Anyone who likes their entertainment silly rather than serious should find the play a steal. And don’t call me Shirley.