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Phil Willmott

Review: THE COMEDY ABOUT A BANK ROBBERY at the Criterion Theatre

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery It’s fun to catch up with the West End’s long running shows so I was delighted to be invited to see this hit comedy on its third birthday. And I was even more delighted to discover that it’s as funny as everyone says.

This is a product of Mischief Theatre, who are an extraordinary phenomenon, a company whose work can fill venues across the world with non-musicals without star names or already popular titles.

The plays are devised by three improv comedy performers, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Harry Sheilds, which are produced by the enterprising Kenny Wax in the West End, across the UK and recently on Broadway and around North America. Wax discovered the team, who met whilst studying at LAMDA drama school, performing in a pub theatre. The scripts are also licensed for independent productions across the globe and the brand has also successfully transferred to radio and TV.

So what’s the secret to Mischief’s rise and rise? Well, their first show and its title, THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG (still running at the Duchess Theatre) are all about making fun of theatre. If you found the art form impenetrable, irrelevant or irritating here was a show you could safely book to see that wouldn’t try to persuade you otherwise.

I must confess, it saddens me that THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG and the follow up PETER PAN GOES WRONG (along with the TV and radio spin offs) has tapped into a deep rooted contempt amongst the public for things theatrical and their thirst to see it ridiculed. But I must also confess that these shows about productions collapsing into mayhem are also extremely funny with witty scripts, glorious slapstick and immaculate comic timing by young casts.

Having mastered the art of backstage farce, Mischief Theatre moved into new territory with THE COMEDY ABOUT A BANK ROBBERY. This isn’t a comedy about bursting the balloon of theatrical pretentious. It’s a non-theatre related comedy about an inept bank heist in a sort of cartoon 1950s Minneapolis.

Gloriously silly verbal misunderstandings and beautifully executed slapstick, stunts and physical theatre lace the ridiculous, gaff prone adventures of thieves, police and bank staff during an attempt to steal a diamond.

Highlights include an extraordinary scene which we view as if from above the action, comic costumes and wigs, puppetry, scenery that seems to explode on to the stage as if from nowhere and regular doo-wop & gospel musical interludes.

Watching from the second row of the stalls I did begin to find everyone yelling at each other with hoarse voices a bit wearing but it is this manic energy which drives the comedy and it's impressive that the cast can sustain it. I hope the actors don’t do permanent damage to their vocal chords, though.

The cast are all great-looking, superb actors and their timing is so spot on it’s hard to believe they’re all relatively new to the profession. Well done to casting directors Lucy Jenkins and Sooki Mcshane for finding them all.

If you’re looking for a West End comedy where big laughs are guaranteed then this is the show for you.

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery