By Mark Brown
The Comedy About a Bank Robbery
Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Playing King’s Theatre, Edinburgh,
The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is the latest show from Mischief Theatre (the people who brought you the smash hit The Play That Goes Wrong). Like its predecessor, it is a fast-paced farce exploding with technical brilliance, physical dexterity and wonderfully silly comedy.
Or, at least, it becomes this in its unforgettable second half. Unlike The Play That Goes Wrong (in which the superb visual and physical comedy kicks off good and early), the new play takes some time to get going.
The difference, simply, is narrative. The former play, to all intents and purposes, doesn’t have one, and can cut straight to the high octane farce. The Comedy About a Bank Robbery (in which an accident prone gang in 1950s Minneapolis seeks to steal a gem belonging to a Hungarian prince), on the other hand, requires a bit of setting up.
The blistering second half more than makes up for the slightly slow start, however. As the gang, led by escaped convict Mitch Ruscitti (Liam Jeavons), closes in on the diamond, the play becomes an uproarious farce of impersonation, mistaken identity and outstanding physical and visual comedy.
In the rented apartment of Ruscitti’s appropriately named girlfriend Caprice (Julia Frith) and the Minneapolis City Bank anything that can go wrong does go wrong. The slapstick humour (including comic violence and the almost obligatory loss of trousers) is deliciously daft and reassuringly reminiscent of the work of Charlie Chaplin.
Mischief Theatre’s calling card is its technical prowess, and this production boasts a truly breathtaking example. It would be a crime greater than the nicking of a diamond to give it away; suffice to say that, when we suddenly see the bank’s backroom from the perspective of the thieves who are crawling through the air vent, the show gives a spectacular and hilarious new meaning to the phrase “bird’s eye view”.
This memorable scene is a genuine coup de theatre, and almost worth the ticket price on its own.
The Dolls – Dragged Up
Touring until November 24
Reviewing the latest show by The Dolls (aka Gayle Telfer Stevens and Louise McCarthy) for a family newspaper is a bit like trying to catch an eel with your bare hands. If there is a single gag in this unapologetically vulgar evening’s entertainment that can be repeated on these pages, I confess, I missed it.
Telfer Stevens (best known as Caitlin McLean in River City) and McCarthy (who has just received a Scottish BAFTA award for television comedy Scot Squad) are the Jekyll and Hyde of Scottish drama.
In their mainstream TV and stage careers, they are wholesome family entertainers. Stick a couple of old-style cleaners’ headscarves on them and call them Agnes and Sadie, however, and they become a pair of foul-mouthed, scatological demons.
In The Dolls – Dragged Up we find our heroines in the ludicrously unlikely situation of pretending to be men pretending to be women in a Glaswegian drag queen contest. Add to this a secretly gay, Italian chippie owner, a pair of real (i.e. male) drag queens and a spectacularly crude representation of the female anatomy (when Sadie provides Agnes with some far-from-professional cosmetic surgery).
All of which amounts to a fascinating, modern, female twist to the Scottish, vaudeville comedy tradition. The Dolls estimate that their overwhelmingly working-class audience is split roughly 80/20 women to men; this was certainly borne out by an Edinburgh crowd which, encouragingly, gave fulsome backing to the show’s pro-gay, pro-trans politics.
With their brazen, highly accomplished performances, taboo-busting single entendres and comic songs (signature line: “we like it up the close”) Telfer Stevens and McCarthy have created a genre all of their very own. Let’s call it scurrilous, 21st-century, Scottish, female music hall.
Tour dates: robertckelly.co.uk
These reviews were originally published in The Herald on Sunday on November 11, 2018
© Mark Brown