Touring – reviewed at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
There are plenty of laughs to be had in the touring Comedy About A Bank Robbery at the King’s. There are also a couple of gasp-inducing coups de theatre, all of which goes to disguise the fact that at times this is surprisingly slow going.
Mischief Theatre is well known for The Play That Goes Wrong and its spin-offs. But this play – coming to the end of a long tour on the back of continued West End success – largely eschews the intentional mistakes and meta-theatrical devices of its predecessors. Instead it is a (relatively) straightforward farcical tale of a plot to steal a European prince’s diamond from a bank vault in 1959 Minneapolis.
In truth, the story in Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields’ script is of secondary importance, as the Airplane-like spoof of heist movies is merely an excuse for a series of comic set pieces.
These – notably a frenetic game of charades and some beautifully timed farce – are beautifully designed and executed. There is also a commendable attention to detail, particularly in a stunning sequence playing with perspective when the thieves are trying to enter the bank vault.
Director Mark Bell (with Kirsty Patrick Ward responsible for the on-tour direction) and the ensemble achieve an enviable level of timing and togetherness, and the technical side of the production is very strong, from David Farley’s flexible set to Jon Fiber’s sound. It is difficult to imagine anyone who comes to this production being disappointed by this side of things.
However, there are times when it does start to drag. Considering the plot is little more than a peg on which to hang the comedy, it takes up more space than it should.
The first half in particular takes an unconscionable time to get out of first gear, and it is very difficult to get too worked up about the various double-crosses and plot twists. While the Goes Wrong series trades on the gap between the on-stage actors and their parts to add depth, here there are only clichés.
Picking a setting sixty years ago is no excuse either for an unoriginal storyline or for one-dimensional characters. There are too many dated stereotypes that are not explored enough to be either funny or sympathetic, and too many wilfully cheesy jokes and routines that are repeated beyond their shelf life.
That said, there is no denying the skill of the performers. Special mention for George Hannigan (listed as ‘Everyone Else’) whose depiction of three separate characters having a fight is a joy. Liam Jeavons has a spritely drive as the jailbird who cooks up the plan, while Sean Carey and Julia Frith give two of his co-plotters tremendous comic timing and energy
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Jon Trenchard’s hapless bank employee is beautifully drawn. David Coomber (a prison guard and would-be actor) and Killian Macardle (Officer Shuck) transcend the predictability of their roles through sheer commitment.
The strength of the ensemble is shown by understudy Eddy Westbury slotting seamlessly into the role of bank manager Mr Freeboys on this occasion, taking over from Damian Lynch. That the role is involved in so many of the split-second-timed entrances and exits (to say nothing of the trouser-dropping or head-smashing) must make it difficult for a stand-in to be so successful.
Those responsible for casting the tour must be congratulated for finding such a group of versatile performers, particularly as Hannigan and Frith are making their professional debuts on this tour.
There is always enough of interest going on to sustain the gaps between the big comic moments, such as 39 Steps-style homespun effects or music, with Ashley Tucker’s huge voice a strong point. The problem is that much of it is merely marking time between the big-ticket moments, which are what will linger in the memory.
Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including one interval
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Tuesday 14– Saturday 18 May2019
Daily at 7.30 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery on tour:
14 – 18 May 2019
0131 529 6000
21 – 25 May 2019
01482 300 300
29 May – 1 June 2019
0114 249 6000
4 – 8 June 2019
08448 713 017