Phil did a bit of pre-theatre visit research this week. Accidentally of course. It involved watching two bank-heist-that-go-wrong films; Ben Affleck’s The Town and the filmed-in-a-single-take, but-should-have-been-severely-edited, 138 minute, overpraised German snoozefest Victoria.
And this was at the opening night, just after hearing the news that Prince had died and TCAABR is (rather surprisingly) set in Minneapolis. All very strange indeed…
Compared to previous Mischief efforts this is a straight comedy (by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, who all appear). No play-within-a-play or fourth-wall demolishing going on here. Straight? We may need to redefine that word.
Mark Bell’s production still has plenty of the daft, larky, slightly amateurish-but-done-very-professionally, over-played outrageousness with bad wigs, dodgy moustaches (a gloriously silly plot point) and the dangerous-looking slapstick fans of the enterprise have come to expect. Hats off to Health and Safety Consultant David Leach who must have his work cut out. Plus there’s some songs from the period (1958) in which it’s set. Hadn’t expected that.
Shields plays bad boy Mitch who attempts to steal a diamond held in a fabulously incompetent bank mismanaged by his girlfriend’s father, Robin Freeboys (Lewis, agreeably pompous). But while Mitch was doing time his gal, Caprice (Charlie Russell, splendidly frenetic) has been making ends meet by conning men. Then she meets dippy dip Sam (Dave Hearn, standout), who falls for her and gets inveigled in the heist. Oh, and Sam just happens to be the son of Ruth (Nancy Wallinger) a teller with Bride of Frankenstein-streaked very big hair who works at the same bank. Got all that?
Huge corny laughs from the off cram the daffy, already crowded prison opening scene which sets us up to enjoy the later big set pieces; Act Ones’s demented drop-down bed scene also delivered Phil’s favourite joke of the night (it’s something to do with Las Vegas) and Act Two’s wicked defying gravity scene, details of which would spoil the surprise. Both are sublimely ridiculous.
There’s a series of surreal running gags involving big hats, police paperwork, telephones and seagulls. Don’t ask. And don’t ask why we get to see a brief scene from Casablanca or why the Mission Impossible-style heist is executed as the gang sing lullabies. Swallow disbelief as two of the cast pass themselves off as the couldn’t-be-more-physically-dissimilar Freeboys. Andrew who claims prosopagnosic tendencies won’t have to swallow anything.
If the occasional joke falls flat there’s always a gag bigger than a celebrity injunction along shortly after. This show looks set to occupy the Criterion for a very long time indeed.
When Peter Pan Goes Wrong returns for its Christmas run Mischief will have three shows running in the West End and apparently the Olivier Award-winning The Play That Goes Wrong will go on tour next year and The Musical That Goes Wrong is in development. Though the cast, especially Wallinger, may have to learn how to sing in a less accomplished manner than they do here.
Screwball global domination threatens.
Phil would love to say what a pleasure it was to be back at the Criterion Theatre after so long. But he can’t. Incredibly this is the first Whinger report for a show at this venue. But our sight lines weren’t great, especially if you’re seated behind someone tall (and restless) or under the circle overhang. After the interval Phil’s 6ft 4in companion for the night relocated to a spare seat so he could actually see what was going on.