(seen at the afternoon preview performance on 3rd April 2016).
In the week that Ronnie Corbett passed away, it was rather heartening to see a
show that he and partner Ronnie Barker could almost have written – and been very
proud of. Yes, the choice of language at one point was possibly too strong for
them (and some younger Mischief Theatre fans – if your children loved “Peter Pan
Goes Wrong,” be aware they need to be 12 or so to get this one) but they would
surely have loved the homage and pastiche.
For that is what this is. Complete
with Abbott and Costello routines, Gumshoe clichés and a shaky movie-led grasp
of everything 1958 Minneapolis, writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry
Shields move their theatre company into “proper” comedy play territory with this
There’s still plenty of the old. Playing with props, the slightly ragged feel
of the set, rushing around and smart-but-obvious lines. Sometimes, this time
around, it even feels a little too self-indulgent, with routines going on a bit
too long, a little “we enjoyed this last time, let’s do it again” even, which
takes slightly the freshness away. Still, what is left is often riotous, and
some of the set pieces (without giving too much away, the ‘prison break’ and
actual robbery) are among the funniest ever staged.
Terrific sets, genuinely thrilling and inventive stunt work (even more so
given Ms Russell’s stated fear of heights and – what looked like scabbed,
healing leg – to prove it) and madcap visual humour (note the number on the
apartment door, related to dialogue) make the time fly by.
The real pleasure is seeing the core “Mischief Theatre” team really stretch
their acting skills. Biggest revelation is Henry Shields. His Danny Zuko-esque
Mitch Ruscitti is sharp contrast to his famous Fawlty routine. Henry Lewis as
Robin Freeboys is a corpulent, hysterically funny bank manager, and Greg
Tannahill an accomplice worth avoiding.
Pairing Dave Hearn and Nancy Wallinger as son and mother is an inspiration,
Ms Wallinger once again confirming herself as the leading female comic talent in
the West End. As ruthless daughter Caprice Freeboys, Charlie Russell adopts a
decent American accent, providing a nicely hydrated performance handling a
character far less vacant than her previous roles, with surprising depth.
Mention too for Mark Bell’s direction which almost invariably keeps things on
track, and David Farley for a set design which rarely fails to surprise. Also
worth noting are Alex Frith and David Leach – stunt designer and safety
consultant respectively, who must have worked overtime on this.
It’s heavier and a little less naively charming than the company’s previous
work. It’s also sometimes more mature and better considered too. Perhaps played
a little faster once they are truly sure of the material it’ll really hit the
fifth star it is aiming for. Still, it’s as satisfying for this fan of the team
as all that has gone before, and if the monkey has one regret, it is that there
probably won’t be another new show from them for a long while to come. Luckily,
for the moment, this is a pretty fair sized diamond.