REVIEW: The Comedy About a Bank Robbery (Criterion Theatre) ★★★★★

We find ourselves in 1950’s Minneapolis, at what appears to be the worst-run bank in the U.S. of A. For some reason, a Hungarian prince has decided to entrust bank manager Robin Freeboys (Leonard Cook) with looking after his precious diamond, worth half a million dollars, and recent jailbird Mitch (Gareth Tempest) is planning a heist to steal it. Together with a cast of dastardly crooks, will he be able to bamboozle the clueless bank staff and escape with the prize?

This performance marked the third anniversary of ‘The Comedy About A Bank Robbery‘, the brainchild of playwrights Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields and Henry Lewis. After the outstanding success of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’, a production that uniquely reinvigorated comedy on the West End, audiences were thrilled to see that the fun can be continued down the road at the Criterion Theatre.

Firstly, I need to start with making a point about this kind of humour: it’s a very classic, slapstick-style that has one main aim: to make absolutely everyone, no matter who you are, howl, shriek and/or cry with laughter, or at the very least, crack a smile. The play has been criticised by previous reviewers for having a plot too unfeasible to be taken seriously. To this, I throw my arms up in exasperation and shout: “THAT IS THE ENTIRE POINT!” There are many shows available to see on the West End with ‘serious’ narratives based firmly in reality – ‘Bank Robbery’ holds zero pretence and isn’t trying to be a duck dressed as an owl: it’s a duck and proud. The clue is in the title – a ‘comedy’ – of course the story is silly, it has artistic licence to be.

This production is both highly creative and ambitious, with its performers enlisted to spend a great deal of their time many metres off the ground and performing fantastic feats of movement. The staging is a spectacle to behold, as are the numerous set changes. A few musical numbers in between scenes (mostly led by the vocally splendid Jenna Augen as Ruth) break up the action and give the play a constantly dynamic feeling, and the improvisation of large props (such as cars) using minimal resources invited the audience to use their imagination, which is a nice break from seeing things so literally.

Caprice (Emily Stott) is a true diamond in this production, bringing an unmatched energy that screams ‘fantastic casting’ and somehow managing to make us like a rather unlikable character. Chris Leask is the master of identities, taking on numerous characters throughout and delivering a highly skilled scene in which he played three characters in a fight (that’s right, three characters at once, with seamless changeovers). In fact, the entire cast has been chosen based on their comedy prowess: quick-moving, sharp-tongued and throwing themselves utterly into their larger-than life characters. You cannot underestimate the importance of timing in the delivery of this kind of humour; the script moves fast and requires absolute concentration – otherwise you may well miss a trio of jokes in a matter of seconds.

Mischief Theatre is not afraid to transcend boundaries, be politically incorrect and delve good-spiritedly into darker themes (poor Simon and Debra…). This is the most feel-good, laugh-out-loud, wonderfully silly evening that you owe yourself – take your gran, take your colleagues, take your dog – this is for absolutely everyone.

Reviewed by Laura Evans
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