Arts Editor Katherine Corcoran reviews Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, as it was in its final week last week at Leeds Grand Theatre.
Much is to be discussed in our taxi ride home from the opening night showing of The Comedy About a Bank Robbery. I leave the performance in what might best be described as a ‘comedy coma’: a state of cathartic astonishment as I lounge awe-struck in the back of the car, wondering just how I’m going to write a cohesive review of a show that’s had me in fits of laughter for a solid two hours.
After The Play That Goes Wrong won Mischief Theatre the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2015, it was clear that big things were in store for the London-based company of LAMDA alumni. With a sense of humour rooted in crafty word-play and neatly choreographed slapstick, Mischief have established an intelligent style that has granted them a respectable place within London’s West End (when The Play That Goes Wrong closes next April, it will have been showing at the Duchess Theatre for a five year run).
The Comedy About a Bank Robbery applies Mischief’s inventive flair to a 1950s setting, where an escapee convict sets out to rob a Minneapolis bank of their priceless diamond. The realisation of this crime is of course intensely problematic, and as the plan comes to life the various layers of who’s duping who become fantastically intertwined, creating a sense of chaos at the centre of the comedy.
What’s astounding from the out-set is the sheer amount of thought that’s gone into the play’s speedy gags. Mischief founders Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have crafted a script rammed with quick off the mark puns that set a demanding pace for the audience to get used to – find yourself chuckling for too long at one play on ‘Robin Threeboys’ (the bank manager played by Damian Lynch, and also the crook’s plan for the day) and you’ll miss the next joke.
When opening scenes are this smart it’s hard to imagine how The Comedy About a Bank Robbery might maintain its momentum, but it keeps getting better and better. Choreographed by tour director Kirsty Patrick Ward, the cast’s gymnastic energy adds visual excitement to the script-based humour; there’s a hilarious scene in the apartment of Caprice Freeboys (the hustler daughter of Robin Freeboys, played by Julia Firth) where Dave Hearn (Sam Monaghan) clambers around a malfunctioning fold-out bed, hiding high and low from Mitch (Liam Jeavons) as he tries to get it on with Caprice. It’s nostalgic, ‘he’s behind you’ humour vamped up to LAMDA level.
David Farley’s first-class sets show off the profits that have been raked in by Mischief since the success of their debut show. There’s a striking moment where the crooks squeeze through a vent in the ceiling of the bank, and as they’re sliding through a tunnel downstage the entire back wall reveals a birds’ eye view of the office scene below, with Threeboys and his simpleminded 67-year-old intern Warren (Jon Trenchard) sat on a wall at right angles to the stage. It’s a phenomenal exploitation of all the possibilities for a proscenium arch space. The potential for comedy genius is naturally taken advantage of in this remarkable scene, with coffee spillages and paper dropping to the floor making a self-referential nudge at the staging. Overall, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is apolitical humour done incredibly smartly.
Image Courtesy of Leeds Grand Theatre