THE COMEDY ABOUT A BANK ROBBERY
The REP, Birmingham, Wednesday 29th August, 2018
Mischief Theatre, the group behind the phenomenally successful The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong, is back with this piece in which everything goes right. Set in 1950s America, there is a B-movie aesthetic to this tale of a diamond heist from a bank in Minneapolis. Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields cram their script with quickfire corny jokes – the opening scene in a prison cell sets the bar low (or high, depending on your point of view) from the start. But such is the conviction of the cast, with their energised, larger-than-life delivery, they get away with even the most groan-worthy lines.
It’s a conventional farce in many respects. Old-fashioned – and that fashion being the commedia dell’arte with stock characters and ludicrous situations, that develop and grow to the point of absurdity. There is plenty of double-talk of which the Marx Brothers and Abbott & Costello would be proud. A lengthy scene in an apartment with a fold-up bed is breath-taking in its complexity. Later, a scene in the bank with the manager and two imposters outdoes everything that has come earlier for sheer silliness. A scene in which the back wall becomes the floor, while the robbers crawl through air vents, is hilariously inventive – theatricality is used as another dimension to the sight gags.
Liam Jeavons brings a dangerous edge to the silliness as lead robber Mitch Ruscitti, his efforts forever punctured by David Coomber’s campily dramatic and incredibly thick Neil Cooper. Damian Lynch is pitch perfect as the gruff bank manager, Robin Freeboys, and Killian Macardie gets more than sufficiently wound-up as stressed FBI officer Randal Shuck. Jon Trenchard is on the receiving end of most of the slapstick violence, in his role as hapless perma-intern Warren Slax, while Ashley Tucker’s Ruth Monaghan (in this performance) delivers most of the sublime singing that covers the scene transitions. At the heart of the piece is the love story between the bank manager’s grifter daughter, Caprice (a marvellously funny Julia Frith) and Seán Carey’s petty crook and con artist Sam. Theirs is a romance of intensely silly situational comedy, but we end up rooting for them all the same. Oh, and George Hannigan plays Everyone Else – including a solo scene in which he miraculously depicts a fight between three of Caprice’s suitors.
David Farley’s set is both stylish and functional, swiftly changing locations while being solid enough to allow extremes of physical comedy. David Howe’s lighting heightens the heist-movie feel – there’s a scene underwater that is just beautiful to see.
An unadulterated joy, this is a comedy with plenty for everyone. The pace never flags so we never lose interest (that’s a banking joke) and then, remarkably, the odd moment of actual drama breaks to the surface – and you could hear a pin drop in the auditorium. The sillier it gets, the more we marvel at the cleverness of the show’s creators, and the seemingly tireless energy of this remarkable ensemble, who rise to the demands of each moment.
I urge you to get a ticket to one of the funniest shows you will ever see – whatever price you pay is a steal. And it would be a crime to miss it, etc…
Making a withdrawal: Liam Jeavons, Julia Frith, and Seán Carey (Photo: Robert Day)
Leave a comment | tags: Ashley Tucker, Daivd Farley, Damian Lynch, David Coomber, David Howe, George Hannigan, Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, Jon Trenchard, Jonathan Sayer, Julia Frith, Killian Macardie, Liam Jeavons, Mischief Theatre, review, Sean Carey, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, The REP Birmingham | posted in Review, Theatre Review
A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL
The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Thursday 9th January 2014
Alan Ayckbourn’s 1984 comedy is set in the world of amateur dramatics. Professional productions of the piece usually cannot afford to put enough bodies on the stage to represent the scale of an amateur cast, while amateur companies have the advantage of lots and lots of willing (if not necessarily able) members with whom to fill the performance space. Birmingham’s Stage2 youth theatre company is short of neither bodies nor ability – what impresses first and foremost is the focus and discipline of the crowd scenes. Director Liz Light keeps the teeming throng of young actors tightly packed while at the same time allowing for the individuality of each and every one of them. It’s like watching a Hogarth engraving come to life.
The plot charts the progress of handsome but inhibited widower Guy Jones (played by Tom Baker – not that Tom Baker, although there are traces of Matt Smith in his performance!) as he auditions for a part in the chorus of his local am-dram’s production of The Beggar’s Opera. He meets affable but tyrannical director Dafydd ap Llewellyn – a towering portrayal by Ethan Tarr. Guy works his way up the cast list and through various female members of the society.
Baker is the perfect foil for Tarr’s monstrous Llewellyn, although one suggestion I would make is that everyone needs to take it down a notch, especially in the earlier scenes. The Ron Barker Studio allows smaller, understated work. The cast need to take their foot off the pedal a bit so that when the action unfolds and simmering emotions boil over, they have somewhere to go. This way the contrast between moments of relative peace and outbreaks of aggression and resentment is sharper. It seems a little too angsty and uptight from the get-go.
That being said, as Guy finds himself more deeply embroiled on and off stage, there is some lovely comic playing. Baker is highly skilled at being uncomfortable and his reactions to what he sees and hears are excellent – especially his spit-takes. Tarr plays all the colours of the tyrant like a virtuoso. His sudden explosions of sarcastic rage are hilarious.
But this is far from a two-man show. I can’t mention everyone in this superb ensemble but I will point out Helen Carter as Dafydd’s wife, played with sensitivity and truth. Priya Edwards’s Fay is more broad as a characterisation but equally truthful with her knowing humour.
The adult themes and subject matter are handled beautifully, leading to some hilarious moments of misunderstanding and unintentional innuendo on the part of the characters. Such is the quality of some of the acting, it is easy to see past the youth of the players. Andrew Brown elicits empathy as the clueless, useless Ted who gets the brunt of Dafydd’s ire and derision and I also enjoyed Sarah Quinn as the aggressive barmaid/stage manager. George Hannigan gives a well-observed turn as old boy Jarvis – similarly Rosie Nisbet’s Rebecca is played with assurance, haughtiness and stature, convincingly middle-aged rather than the teenagers they actually are.
The staging is kept simple (there isn’t room for much!) but there is sophistication in the handling of settings and transitions. At the end when they appear in their 18th century costumes and rise to the occasion of their show, it’s a measure of the high quality of the production as a whole.
Amateur actors acting as bad amateur actors in quite a feat to pull off. The dozens of members of Stage2 fill the space with their energy, dedication and talent, undaunted by the complexities and nuances of Ayckbourn’s script. With a lighter touch at the beginning, this production would be flawless.
Tom Baker as Guy Jones
Leave a comment | tags: A Chorus of Disapproval, Alan Ayckbourn, Andrew Brown, Birmingham, Ethan Tarr, George Hannigan, Helen Carter, Liz Light, Priya Edwards, review, Ron Barber Studio, Rosie nisbet, Sarah Quinn, Stage2, The Beggar's Opera, The Crescent, theatre review, Tom Baker | posted in Theatre Review