The Comedy About a Bank Robbery – Review – York Grand Opera House
By @Roger Crow, February 2019
Despite the fact it had been running in London for a while, I was glad I knew little about Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About a Bank Robbery. The only thing I needed to know was it was from the makers of The Play That Goes Wrong, the rip-roaringly funny send-up of murder mysteries – the play within a play.
The brainchild of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, it uses the pacing of a 1950s-style Tinseltown comedy as its blueprint. The sort of quick-talking wiseguy schtick that translates the world over.
The premise is simple: a Canadian gang attempt to steal a gem from a Minneapolis bank. However, the first few minutes don’t bode well as verbal gymnastics using the name “Robin Threeboys” is exhausted in every way possible. Surely you can’t be serious. I am, and don’t call me Shirley. A much better gag from Airplane!, the film which has long held the record for the greatest gags per minute.
I do wonder if “Robin Freemen” would have been a better joke, but thankfully that’s just a warm-up gag as characters are introduced, the premise is established and the scene-stealing first act set piece reveals itself like a pull-down bed.
Yes, we’ve all seen that gag before where an amorous couple or single individual are elevated into said bed, but rarely has it been pulled off with such skill on stage. A game of charades also brings the house down as an identity is assumed and the young anti-hero attempts to assume the guise of old Robin Threeboys.
Later one of those “how did they do that?” gags is worth the price of admission alone. All great shows need a moment that takes the breath away, and full marks to the cast and crew for pulling off a scene which is as visually stunning as it is daring. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, you’ll know it the second you see it.
But aside from some brilliant stunts, (hats off to old school mate Kevin McCurdy for the fight choreography), and the age-old “whoops, there go my trousers” routine that has propped up farces for decades, there are some gloriously silly moments, from seagulls to giant moustaches. Again, all will become clear.
As I was a newcomer to the production, I had no basis for comparison when it came to the conversion from West End stage to the Grand Opera House. However, I do know the more intimate setting worked splendidly. And it’s often the one-liners that are the greatest treasures, such as “I do know I hit you repeatedly with different objects just to see which was hardest,” is one of those throwaway lines delivered in a deadpan way which nailed the glorious irreverence.
The fact I could see it all again a day after my first viewing is testament to its brilliance.
“One of the funniest shows”
My advice is if you run out of time and don’t manage to see this superb York run, do everything you can to catch it when it arrives in Hull in the spring.
The same show will get a different reaction at different theatres. As much as I adore York productions, Hull audiences seem more up for a laugh when a broad slapstick farce like this comes to town. I’d be fascinated to see how the same show compares when it arrives on May 21 (and I’ll no doubt see it again).
It’s one of the funniest shows of this or any other year. To miss it would be a crime.