If you’re a plucky producer hoping to get your new show into the Criterion Theatre, you’re flat out of luck once again. Because less than nine months after 'The 39 Steps' shuttered after almost a decade glowering over Piccadilly Circus, it’s now home to the brand new comedy by Mischief Theatre, which, if there’s any justice in the theatre world, will run for even longer.
'The Comedy About A Bank Robbery' is the latest play by the bogglingly prolific and talented team behind 'The Play That Goes Wrong' (or more accurately the 'Play That Goes Wrong' franchise) and it’s their best and funniest work yet. A genre pastiche, screwball comedy and classic farce that’s as clean and clear as its brassy branding, it spins with a manic energy from Two Ronnies-esque wordplay through surreal set-pieces to slapstick stunts prepped to bring the house down.
The story of a bungled jewel heist in a sleepy Minneapolis bank branch, it features a host of hilarious but well-drawn characters who roar across the stage and tumble into disaster after disaster, each one more elegantly drawn than the last. The writers’ ability to snatch a laugh out of every line, and to intricately prime each scenario with zinging punchlines and pay-offs is stunning, as call-backs and running gags pile up into teetering edifices of absurdity.
The entire cast is bang on the money, but Mischief Theatre’s own Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer are the standouts as booming bank manager Robin Freeboys and hapless loser (and eternal intern) Warren Slax.
The whole caper’s probably a set-piece too long, a 2 hours 15 minutes is a long time to sustain this level of energy both for a cast and an audience, but 'The Comedy About a Bank Robbery' must rate as the best new comedy to open straight onto the West End in decades. In a year that has seen so many comedy greats snuff it, it’s heartening to see a new generation prove themselves so definitively up to the challenge.
This review is from 2016. The cast now includes Samson Ajewole, Jenn Augen, Jack Baldwin, Leonard Cook, Sam Fogell, Matt Hunt, Chris Leask, Peter McGovern and Holly Sumpton. Check official website for full cast details.