The Mischief Theatre Company’s third big West End hit (following The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong) is The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, a slightly less fourth-wall breaking show, and a commendably different path for the company to follow.
The show is on national tour, and it’s the Birmingham leg of said journey around the UK that I caught. Playing to a packed Friday night house at the Birmingham Rep, it’s a good old fashioned 50s-style caper you get for your money here. It kicks off with a prison break, and journeys towards a valuable diamond being stored in a small US bank. The framing of the amateur dramatics society of earlier shows is set aside, in favour of a contained story, and just the occasional wink at the audience.
And lord is it funny. Kicking off with a superb scene where wordplay apparently effortlessly generates some strong early chuckles, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery then slows slightly (and notably) to get its pieces into place. It’s a necessary sacrifice for playing with a more narrative-driven show, and also, the bulky scenery is needed to be wheeled into place, covered with very good song numbers, that unfortunately were drowned out by the clanking noise of the scenery changes going on around,
Thankfully, things then hit top gear. There’s little sense that the production has been contained for its 35-date tour, and the witty script leaves few jokes unmined. Furthermore, there are some flat-out brilliant extended sequences. In particular, there’s a long scene that makes up a significant part of the first act where it the show just keeps coming. Perhaps tellingly, this is a long scene in one location, thus scenery changes aren’t required. Instead, it involves precise timing, a good number of the ensemble, a real mix of physical and verbal comedy, exquisite timing, and a fluidity that you don’t think about while you’re watching, but appreciate as you devour an ice cream in the interval.
The second half then manages to up the ante, with a visually extremely clever sequence that I’ve no intention of spoiling at all. It’s during this sequence that the company edge towards the fourth wall, but the ingenuity of the moment concerned lends itself to that. The comedy is paramount throughout the show, and when it hits, it hits hard (figuratively and literally).
The need to wrap the narrative up towards the end just puts the brakes on a tiny bit, but by then, Kirsty Patrick Ward’s direction and masterclass in comedy blocking and timing of actors (working from the West End direction by Mark Bell) had long won the audience over, me included. Furthermore, Julia Frith, Damian Lynch and Jon Trenchard are quite brilliant in a strong cast.
Perhaps there’s an argument that the laugh count isn’t quite as high as The Play That Goes Wrong, but The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is both a love letter to the 50s caper movie, and a very, very, very funny production in its own right.
Its tour runs until June next year, and full details can be found at www.thecomedyaboutabankrobbert.com.