The Comedy About A Bank Robbery at the Criterion Theatre
With its ability to keep an audience laughing for the show’s duration, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery offers much more entertainment than its unambiguous title implies. Marnie Howlett examines this show as it finishes its second year of production, focusing on its dynamite wit, slapstick humor, and incredibly energetic acting.
A play advertised as both a comedy and a story about a bank robbery could be a difficult feat to carry out. However, Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery rises to the challenge through a brilliantly farcical script written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields. Playing at the Criterion Theatre since its premiere in March 2016, the show provokes continuous laughter almost to the point of abdominal pain. In fact, I missed a few of the actors’ lines because the person beside me was roaring with laughter so frequently that his breathing often became noisily labored. While much of the play’s humor stems from the wittiness of the scripts’ silly puns and wordplays, such as the simple misinterpretation of Robin Freeboys’ name as “Robbin’ three boys,” a great deal of credit is owed to the actors’ strong execution and ability to keep the show light and fast-paced during the two-and-a-half-hour performance.
Set in 1958 Minneapolis, the story takes the audience through jailbird Mitch Ruscitti’s (Matt Hunt) attempted heist of an invaluable diamond owned by a Hungarian prince housed in Minneapolis City Bank. Joining him in this scheme is the goofy and clueless, Neil Cooper (Samson Ajewole), one of the guards at the British Columbia Penitentiary where Mitch recently escaped from. Also in cahoots is Mitch’s girlfriend, Caprice Freeboys (Holly Sumpton), daughter of the cantankerous Robin Freeboys (Leonard Cook) who manages the Minneapolis City Bank. Joining them is the pick-pocket that Caprice has the hots for, Sam Monaghan (Sam Fogell), who is also the son of the unruffled bank teller, Ruth Monaghan (Jenna Augen).
In line with the playfulness suggested in the theatre company’s name, this play is full of merry mischief as these characters continuously assume alternative identities—most often that of Robin Freeboys. One of these settings—which sent enormous laughter ricocheting around the auditorium—is a hilarious slapstick charade of Sam pretending to be Freeboys while Caprice frantically mimes clues to answer Mitch’s never-ending questions about Freeboys’ life. It is in moments like these that you don’t think you can laugh any harder, but thanks to Mark Bell and Nancy Zamit’s crafty direction, you do.
It is not just the number of jokes that makes this production so undeniably impressive, but the diversity of the gags and the ways they are manifested verbally, visually, and physically throughout the play. While some are merely corny puns, such as when someone shouts “Neil!” and everyone in the scene drops to their knees, other slapstick moments like Sam’s attempt to escape Caprice’s apartment while her and Mitch share a moment on the bed make it genuinely hard to keep a straight face. What makes this scene particularly entertaining is the incorporation of the malfunctioning fold-up bed, which inevitably folds and entraps every character in the room at least once. Yet in spite of many ridiculous scenarios like this one, and an audience that is often roaring with laughter, one of the most remarkable aspects of this show is that the young actors (somehow) manage to effectively follow the storyline without overly enjoying their own jokes. Very few shows have the ability to make you wish you were on stage with the actors, but the dynamite energy and enthusiasm of The Comedy’s talented cast does exactly that.
A review of this play would not be complete without praise for the set design and clever production by David Farley. From a tablecloth that almost instantaneously becomes a movie theatre’s screen, to actors crawling in vents along the sides and top of the stage, the production team has done an incredible job creating sets and transitions that keep the show’s momentum going. One particularly impressive moment is when a chase scene is forged through a desk chair and a wheeled laundry basket as a bike and car respectively. The inclusion of musical elements in set changes, especially those of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is also beautifully dynamic and greatly entertains while reducing the amount of dead time on stage. In addition, the second half of the play successfully delivers a coup de theatre, wherein the audience has a bird’s-eye-view of an exchange between Freeboys and the bank’s 67-year old intern Warren Slax (Peter McGovern). Set at a 90-degree angle to the stage, this scene offers a mixing of humor on (literally) different levels that could only come from a farce fixed impressively high in the air.
Following from here then, how can The Comedy About A Bank Robbery best be summed up? Merely calling this show a comedy about a bank robbery that goes horribly wrong would rob it of its brilliant wit and superb acting. In fact, describing The Comedy About A Bank Robbery as anything less than one of the funniest shows currently playing in London’s West End would be criminal.
The Comedy about a Bank Robbery is playing until 7th April 2019.