Since humble beginnings just over a decade ago as a project founded by former students of LAMDA drama school, Mischief Theatre has established itself as a stalwart of British theatre comedy. Its former productions, most famously The Play That Goes Wrong, have won numerous awards and are regular features at the West End. So the burning question is: would their follow-up show, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, live up to such high expectations?
Answer: Yes, and more.
This play is hilarious. Impeccably timed jokes are delivered in such rapid succession that the audience barely has time to recover from each bout of laughter. Whilst The Play That Goes Wrong wears its meta, fourth-wall-breaking tropes on its sleeve, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is subtler, gently satirizing the clichés of heist dramas in a more self-contained premise. This gives the script more room to breathe and allows it to develop a stronger character-driven story. After an uproarious opening scene, a few more conventional dramatic sequences follow, which establish the main characters of the play. Whilst this results in a slight pause in the comedic rhythm of the show, it all pays off by the finale, as seeds sown in the first act return to hilarious effect. Also new to this production is a musical element, with some unexpectedly catchy sing-along numbers accompanying the madcap action on stage, in a pastiche of 1940s radio dramas.
The tight script never loses momentum and manages to deliver outrageously convoluted premises with astonishing clarity, giving the audience the chance to appreciate the jokes without confusion. The style of humour is instantly accessible to people of all ages, as was reflected in the opening-night crowd (although some of the more lewd gags may be lost on the younger theatregoers). Despite the absurd, melodramatic nature of the comedy, it never feels out-of-control; some of the strongest moments result from a delicate coordination of seemingly chaotic but still poised physical and vocal performances.
Previous Mischief Theatre productions have looked to the stage for comedic inspiration; here, the team turn to the silver screen as their muse. The result is an immensely cinematic theatre-going experience. Car chases, bank heists and prison breaks are made all the more impressive considering this show is on tour; none of the West End spectacle has been lost in the transition. One particular gravity-defying scene, at the climax of the second act, induced a collective gasp from the audience with its magical manipulation of perspective. The stunts and set design alone would have been worth the ticket price, but the cast and crew do not rest on their laurels. Rather, the set becomes a key character, changing constantly to drive the plot forward and producing punchlines of its own.
The actors deliver their lines with an infectious energy and enthusiasm and it is clear that every cast member is enjoying themselves as much as those watching. This sense of warm-hearted fun cuts though the potentially distancing sheen of such a well-practiced production, in turn allowing more emotional moments to be fully explored with the sympathy of the audience. The talents of the cast are gradually revealed to be more than just dramatic. They joke, they sing, they swing upside down from the ceiling – and then they do all three at once. A particular highlight is George Hannigan (making his professional debut) playing three characters simultaneously, in a solo sketch that hilariously descends into a violent, creative argument with himself – a brilliant moment of conceptual genius that harks back to Mischief’s simpler origins at the Edinburgh Fringe.
As audiences, we can only be thankful that the team behind The Comedy About A Bank Robbery has now been given the resources to match their creativity. They have taken this opportunity and created a show that will make you jump, laugh and squirm whilst you experience a night of some of the best entertainment this country has to offer.
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is running at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until the 2nd of March 2019. Tickets are available here https://www.cambridgeartstheatre.com/whats-on/comedy-about-bank-robbery. Mischief Theatre will return from the 12th to the 16th of September 2019 with their tour of Peter Pan Goes Wrong.