Mischief Theatre are at The King’s Theatre Edinburgh this week (Tuesday 14th to Saturday 18th May) with their hit production “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery”, and I am pleased to say that this one is nothing like I imagined it was going to be.
Having already reviewed one of this company’s other productions “The Play That Goes Wrong”, I expected production standards to be at least up to that one (and they were), but I have to admit that normally when it comes to comedy that I am often with Queen Victoria and frequently “not amused”. For some reason, planned comedy is often just not funny and it takes skilled writers and cast to lift any comedy out of that “pit of despair” that it can so quickly descend into. For the first few minutes of the opening “mistaken instructions” gags, it looked like Queen Victoria was going to sum this production up too.
After that little introductory period was over though, it quickly became obvious that the creative and performance teams behind “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery”, had the talents to create something that was stylish, innovative and above all genuinely funny, and on top of that using humour that never fell into the areas of crudity, bad-language or explicit references to sex and body functions that so much of contemporary comedy feels it has to “explore”. This is a family show that has at best, mild and classic innuendo when required and proves that none of the before mentioned elements are required to be funny.
With this production, writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have given us a wonderfully tight script that is full of humour and, for me, makes me think of some of the great moments of those great Hollywood comedy films of yesterday. Here we have elements of outright visual farce that takes us back to the golden days of people like Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton whilst at the same time having innovative word play of the quality of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s On First Base” classic routine. Tour director Kirsty Patrick Ward has also done a good job here following up on original director Mark Bell’s vision. Setting our diamond heist story in Summer 1958 in Minneapolis City Bank has also allowed for a lovely period piece of theatre that allows set designer (David Farley) and costume designer (Roberto Surace) the opportunity for some very good 1950s detailing, and some parodies of late 1950s “doo-wop” songs just adds to the flavour of the times.
None of this though, script, set, costumes are going to matter if the cast are not able to produce the goods on-stage and bring everything to life, and this is where the magic really starts to happen with this production. For this production we have a very good cast who all have that much needed, but often very elusive comedy timing, and everyone here works perfectly with everyone around them. There are no weak links in this cast.
Here, with our late 1950s setting, it is Julia Frith as “bad girl” Caprice Freeboys who has the job of holding so much of this story together with her character, and here Julia gives us the “lovable bad girl” that conjures up memories for me of all those great 1950s light comedies starring Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield and other iconic stars of the time. Every comedy like this needs its contrasting and often lonely person, and that role is brought to life by Jon Trenchard with his portrayal of Warren Slax. There is a darkness and real sadness to Warren Slax, but wisely that is kept fairly light here.
A script like this almost demands to have the “tough guy” (Liam Jeavons as Mitch Ruscitti), the “fall guy” (David Coomber as Neil Cooper) and the “love triangle interest” (Sean Carey as Sam Monaghan) and when everything works well, like it does here, the combination is always interesting.
I have to mention here too Damian Lynch as bank manager Robin Freeboys, Ashley Tucker as bank clerk Ruth Monaghan and Killian Macardle as Officer Randal Shuck for their strong performances here too. Ashley Tucker gets an extra mention for some very good “Doo Wop” song parodies (not forgetting Jon Trenchard as Warren Slax on some too).
To do a production like this, you need good stage people behind you to make sure that every prop happens on cue and that every visual gag is executed to timed perfection, and that is what we get here. Stealing much of this visual inventiveness for me though is a highly innovative scene where the visual perspective of an office provides some visual gags of real ingenuity. I have no intention of describing these further and spoiling the fun for anyone going to see this show.
Oddly enough, I am still a bit puzzled by the visuals used in the promotion of this show. While there is an obvious visual reference to scenes that you would expect in one of the Hollywood blockbuster films of recent years like “Mission Impossible”, this production owes so much more in source material and styling to the classic Pink Panther films of the early 1960s. The promotional visuals for this one almost made me give this one a miss, and I am glad I did not do that. This production is not a weak parody of any film series of recent years, it is instead a sharply scripted and sharply timed and executed comedy classic.
Review by Tom King