Another hilarious play by Mischief Theatre
The real question however is whether the formula that has seen the comedy troupe cement their place in London theatre history can be repeated. The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is the first of Mischief’s big West End productions, not to ‘…Go Wrong’, so to speak, as a performance of an amateur dramatic group’s haphazard performance. Instead, we are given a stylish 50s crime caper that blends in countless moments of slapstick, mistaken identity and shameless punning.
Mischief create theatre that takes the best of Alan Ayckbourn, The Two Ronnies, Michael Frayn and Fawlty Towers, chucks it all in a blender and produces a comedy-rich smoothie perfect for the 21st century.
If you were to be cynical, the one criticism levelled is it does feel like many of the jokes you’ve heard before. The name ‘Robin Freeboys’ itself gives a five minute sketch that is undeniably influenced by The Two Ronnies ‘Fork Handles’. When jokes like this are executed so perfectly in quick fire succession however, it is hard not to forgive the lack of originality and embrace the hilarity.
The cast all perform phenomenally, with utter dedication to selling the jokes, both physical and verbal. The passion and skill of Mischief Theatre is really what divides it from feeling stale and clichéd to being just incredibly enjoyable. Occasionally, intricate set pieces are brought to a frantic crescendo so expertly that it is impossible for the audience not to burst out in applause – not just because it is the end of a scene and it is custom to, but in genuine recognition of the actors’ efforts.
The performance is not completely devoid of Mischief Theatre’s traditional play within a play style however. There’s no pretence that what we are watching is real. Chase scenes, wildlife and staging are all done in a very self-referential way, but this continues to work in The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’s favour, allowing for further jokes and slapstick.
The Fringe roots of the company are still evident and all the better for it. Despite being West End regulars now, it still feels quite makeshift and improvised. Transitions between scenes see the actors throwing open and closed the scenery while dancing with props and singing in a barbershop style. It definitely isn’t the pitch-perfect singing you’d expect from a large musical, but once again the rise and falls of music with action just adds to the frantic, hilarious and surprisingly tense transitions. The Comedy About A Bank Robbery proves that all the money pumped into huge productions will still always been inferior to great writing and performance.
If you’ve loved Mischief Theatre’s previous work, then you will undoubtedly love this too. If you’ve never seen what they do before, then it is something that must be experienced at least once. It’s a universal humour that is hard to imagine anyone could truly dislike or not find funny. They may not be innovating new styles of comedy, but sometimes you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
Reviewed by Shaun Millis