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
The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 14th June, 2017
Phil Porter’s new play ‘borrows’ heavily (to put it mildly!) from the works of Roman comic genius Plautus – Porter is by no means the first to do so; everyone from Shakespeare to Frankie Howerd has been influenced by Plautus’s outlandish plots and larger-than-life character types.
Colin Richmond’s set is a painted representation of two Roman houses – the artificiality is undisguised, as a prompt to tell us we are not in the real world. In this world, characters are broadly drawn, driven by particular foibles and appetites. First among them is General Braggadocio (Felix Hayes), a swaggering braggart, a vain, posturing despot – clearly ripe for duping. Hayes chews his lines with bombast and relish in a massively enjoyable performance. He quotes and paraphrases Donald Trump – which should tell you all you need to know about what kind of dreadful, narcissistic idiot he is.
Running rings around him is Dexter, the cunning, conniving slave. This is the Frankie Howerd role, played here by Sophia Nomvete, a hugely likable presence full of charm and warmth. Her schemes are ludicrous but we take delight in watching them work out, as Dexter copes with each new obstacle that is thrown in her path.
Aiding and abetting (but mostly hampering and hindering) are fellow slaves, Feclus (a hilarious and tightly wound Steven Kynman) whose desperation and frustration are a lot of fun, and Omnivorous (Byron Mondahl) who, as his name gives away, eats a lot but is at his comic best when he is pissed off his face.
Geoffrey Lumb’s handsome but dim young lover, Valentin, is a wide-eyed twit, while his other half, the general’s concubine Voluptua gives the performance of the night. Ellie Beaven is the cream of this very rich crop of comedic talent, flitting between characterisations with impeccable timing and nuance – and it’s not the kind of show where you expect much nuance!
There is superb support from Nicholas Day as game old codger Philoproximus and a star turn from Allo Allo’s Kim Hartman as raddled old prostitute, Climax, hurling herself into Dexter’s schemes with energy and style. Jon Trenchard reinforces the silliness of the whole enterprise, scampering around as Braggadocio’s monkey Terence (named for the other famous Roman playwright, I’ll wager).
Director Janice Honeyman doesn’t miss a trick to keep the laughs coming thick and fast, and much fun is had with some well-placed anachronisms. Roman comedy gives us the opportunity to mock those who would oppress us, while championing the little guy and revelling in the indomitable human qualities of ingenuity and wit. It’s not the plots we come for but the playing. And this production delivers some exquisitely funny playing indeed.
Up Stratford! Felix Hayes and Sophia Nomvete (Photo: Pete Le May)
Leave a comment | tags: Byron Mondahl, Colin Richmond, Ellie Beaven, Felix Hayes, frankie Howerd, Geoffrey Lumb, Janice Honeyman, Jon Trenchard, Kim Hartman, Nicholas Day, Phil Porter, Plautus, review, RSC, Sophia Nomvete, Steven Kynman, Stratford upon Avon, The Swan Theatre, Vice Versa | posted in Theatre Review, Uncategorized
MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Stafford Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford Castle, Thursday 2nd July, 2015
Shakespeare’s finest and funniest rom-com comes to Stafford Castle in this new production directed by Peter Rowe. While the cast sings music hall songs, we find the set and the setting rather striking. Dawn Allsopp’s elegant stage, with trimmed lawns and a classical pavilion is bedecked with union flag bunting – to celebrate the return of the troops from the War. Behind and above this is the ruined castle, adding to the sense of England gone by (even though the play is nominally set in Messina).
Any Much Ado is only as good as its Beatrice and Benedick. In this one they are a mature couple: imagine Caroline Quentin and Boris Karloff – that’s a bit harsh, perhaps. Philip Bretherton’s Benedick is not so much a silver as an arctic fox and a bit stern, while Sherry Baines’s Beatrice is a little bit matronly. The pair are none the less witty for all this and it makes sense. They have spent their lives avoiding and railing against marriage and only come to find each other late in life: it adds poignancy to Beatrice’s lines about everyone else getting married but her and shows that love can keep us all young at heart. You can’t help but like them.
Tom Palmer is a tall and dashing Claudio, capricious but not without conviction. He is especially good in the wedding scene and so is his intended Hero (Catherine Lamb). In fact, it’s the best scene of the night: Peter Rowe delivers the surprise and the tension. He could make more of the comic eavesdropping scenes, nicely played though they are. Edward York’s Leonato is delightfully hopeless at deception and yet heart-breaking when denouncing his daughter. Jake Ferretti’s Don Pedro is full of fun, in marked contrast to his whining petulant brother, Don John – the villain of the piece (Jon Trenchard).
Phylip Harries is a Welsh Dogberry and a very funny one. The scene in which he instructs the watchmen is glorious nonsense, a forerunner of the ‘awkward squad’ we still see in pantomimes today – and it’s gratifying to hear Shakespeare’s lines still getting laughs. They could do with another one or two men though, to flesh things out.
James Hague sings sweetly as Balthasar in a lovely version of Sigh No More, Ladies. As Don John’s henchmen, Dan de Cruz’s cheeky chappie Borachio makes a strong contrast with Charlie Tighe’s Conrade.
This is a satisfying production, not exactly innovative (but then, why tinker just for the sake of it?) and offers much to enjoy.
Leave a comment | tags: Catherine Lamb, Charlie Tighe, Dan de Cruz, Edward York, Jake Ferretti, James Hague, Jon Trenchard, Much Ado About Nothing, Peter Rowe, Philip Bretherton, Phylip Harries, review, Sherry Baines, Stafford Castle, Stafford Festival Shakespeare, Tom Palmer, William Shakespeare | posted in Theatre Review
FIDDLER ON THE ROOF
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 15th October, 2013
Craig Revel Horwood directs this new touring production of the classic musical and shows us exactly why it is a classic musical. His production has a twist – the cast play instruments on stage, a trick that was all the rage a few years back (I remember a particularly fine Mack and Mabel) but here it fits in with the action almost seamlessly: the violins, guitars, flutes and clarinets are the more portable instruments but after a while you don’t notice that one of Tevye’s daughters is lugging a cello around with her. The cast prove themselves as quadruple threats: they act, sing, dance AND play instruments. Everyone else in musical theatre better up their game.
The first half –as long as a feature film but doesn’t seem it- establishes Tevye, his family and the community of Russian Jews, and is rich with warmth and humour – most of which stems from the wise-cracking Tevye (Paul Michael Glaser – yes, that’s right: STARSKY himself!). Well-known songs keep on coming: Tradition, Matchmaker, If I Were A Rich Man – the richness of Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s score offsets the poverty of the characters. Sunrise, Sunset is absolutely beautiful. Gradually, cracks appear in Tevye’s world and his adherence to tradition is challenged, stretched and contorted, as each of his eldest daughters pairs off with young men not of his choosing. Also, pressure from the outside world increases and while the disruption of a wedding at the end of the first act is little more than the overturning of a couple of stools and tables by a mob of two, the threat is established.
The second act is more about the deconstruction of Tevye’s way of life, at home and at large, as his daughters fly the nest and the community disbands. Still, the sense of humour prevails with some of the funniest lines coming at moments of suffering.
As Tevye, Paul Michael Glaser is magnificent, wholly inhabiting the role and making it his own. Karen Mann as wife Golde is very strong and touching in a character part and I particularly liked Claire Petzal as daughter Chava, Liz Kitchen as the matchmaker and Jon Trenchard as Motel. I could go on and list the entire company but really you should go out and catch the show yourself.
As you’d expect from Revel Horwood, the choreography is something to behold, using peasant dances and Cossack moves. There is a dream sequence that is a lot of fun, a moment of high camp in the otherwise dreary setting – Diego Pitarch’s set centres around the homestead which rotates and opens out like a ramshackle doll’s house. The costumes remind us of the period, although the theme of people being dispossessed of their homelands and forced to become refugees remains all too current. Perchik’s revolutionary teachings also have relevance in Broken Britain: “In this world it is the rich who are the criminals”, and even Tevye observes “our old ways were once new” – a message for conservatives everywhere who are resistant to change.
There are the odd moments when everyone dons a false beard to join in with the dancing and Paul Kissaun’s otherwise excellent Lazar looks a bit too much like Hagrid, but on the whole this is a fine-looking, great-sounding production of a show that remains as funny, touching, enjoyable and moving as it ever was, plucking at your heartstrings.
The fiddler on the roof is a metaphor for all of us: life is precarious but we try to scratch out our own tune.
Leave a comment | tags: Claire Petzal, Craig Revel Horwood, Diego Pitarch, Fiddler on the Roof, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Jerry Bock, Jon Trenchard, Karen Mann, Liz Kitchen, Paul Kissaun, Paul Michael Glaser, review, Sheldon Harnick, Starsky and Hutch, theatre review | posted in Theatre Review