Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Review: The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

The Housemate has his birthday treat revealed.  He feigns surprise.


This review is going to repeatedly mention The Play That Goes Wrong, which is bad form.  As a younger sibling myself, I know there’s nothing worse for a young’un than to live in the shadow of their over-achieving elders.  But the fact is that I went to see The Comedy About A Bank Robbery because of The Play That Goes Wrong, so I can’t help comparing it.

I saw Goes Wrong about a year ago.  It won me over before the play even started, I was completely in love with Chris Bean (Henry Shields) and Max (Dave Hearn) moments after they entered the stage and the show shot instantly into second place in my top-five-greatest-shows-of-all-time like a hot knife through a tub of vitalite.

Through not paying any attention at all, I failed to notice the Christmas run of Peter Pan Goes Wrong until the final week and, sure my life now depended on seeing these guys again, without any forethought, planning or checking I was actually free at all, I managed to grab tickets for the penultimate performance.  

At the end of the show when Shields told the audience about their next show The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, it was all I could do to stop myself leaping on to the stage and demanding they put it on NOW NOW, NOT IN SEVERAL MONTHS TIME I NEED MORE DON’T MAKE ME GO HOME WITHOUT YOU.

Then, despite booking time off work and regularly getting out the flyer and waving it at anyone who entered my flat, I forgot to actually book tickets.  Which is how I ended up in the third row of the stalls behind Mr and Mrs McFreak GiantHead, who follow me about and sit in front of my every time I step foot in a theatre.  I hate them.

But to cut a long ramble short, last Friday I finally went to see Bank Robbery.

Actual Review:

With a fresh new show from Mischief Theatre, we get a real treat.  We get to see these talented guys actually doing what they were trained to do – act, instead of pretend to act badly.  And there’s no doubt that these guys can act.

The entire cast is a hoot, making silly characters believable, showing off their skills in comedy and physical stunts, and even singing, though some of the characters don’t feel particularly necessary to the plot.  Newcomer Jeremy Lloyd is hilarious as Officer Shuck, while Charlie Russell as Caprice and Dave Hearn as Sam (both very funny) have the task of playing the ‘human’ characters – you know, the ones you actually worry about when a gun is pointed their way.  They succeed; I was certainly holding my breath during the finale. 

The best part of theatre comedy are the fourth wall references, with which my favourite shows The Producers, The Play That Goes Wrong and The 39 Steps are rife.  Bank Robbery only really has two moments – the major one being the ‘birds-eye-view’ scene, which is so innovative that you will want to climb up on the stage and kiss whoever came up with this idea full on the mouth.  This is the scene people are going to walk away still talking about.

Ever since seeing Kneehigh Theatre’s Brief Encounter or The-Wankiest-Show-Ever-Arted I have something of an aversion to certain theatrical techniques.  With Bank Robbery the musical interludes add that feel of theatre pretension that Goes Wrong refreshingly lacked, but they do slide over the many scene changes, are very catchy and give it all a filmy feel.  There is a definite trend to make it all feel like a movie, which is so successful that when describing an exceptionally good bit, The Housemate referred to a scene change as a ‘cut’.  This show definitely looks slick – in that way where creative geniuses from improvisation backgrounds can do magic.  With their skill and humour, they keep it on the right side of ‘impressive’ without quite slipping into ‘pretentious’ but it’s still a fine line.

Because not everything in this is comedy.  While this is to be expected in a story, often making for the best moments, it feels at odds with the silly title.  Mitch (Shields) is successfully threatening, which is a tribute to Shields’ acting because you’d never think Mitch and Chris Bean could come out of the same person.  But in being so threatening he doesn’t get much funny material, which when considering the ‘Chris Bean gets the stage to himself’ scenes are the highlight of the Goes Wrongs is a little disappointing, particularly since frustration and exasperation (Chris’s allies) would fit what is happening to Mitch perfectly.

There are much fewer laughs after the actual robbery and the ending is something of a bloodbath (perhaps this should be obvious when considering what usually happens in this kind of genre (The Lady Killers for example) and the Goes Wrongs’ lust for violence, but it's more shocking and upsetting than exciting and funny).

But when Bank Robbery is trying to be funny, it never misses.  It’s littered with recurring jokes (I love the seagulls) and Mischief staples: actors precariously dangling from great heights, characters repeatedly getting knocked unconscious and Henry Lewis screaming.

This is another laugh-till-you-choke show.

Bank Robbery did not reach the heights of joy to which The Play That Goes Wrong soared me.  There are lines and expressions from that show that I can still pull up a year later and just melt from happiness.  Bank Robbery will have to content itself with being a really entertaining evening and take company in the top-ten-greatest-shows-I’ve-seen.

What I will take away with me is the scene at the end of Act 1, in which Sam is trying to leave a room, never to succeed.  It was the perfect moment of the show.

Well, it's sort of like meeting the actor...

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