robbery top

A surfeit of Freeboys: Killian Macardle, David Coomber, Julia Frith, and Seán Carey.

Pictures: Robert Day

The Comedy About A Bank Robbery

Birmingham Rep


The title says it all; there is a bank robbery and it is a comedy, but that is not even the half of it. Mischief Theatre are the torchbearers for that predominantly British genre of the dramatic art, the Theatre of the Splendidly Daft.

They gave us first the gloriously stupid The Play That Goes Wrong, followed by the laugh soaked Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and presumably having now graduated from Cornley Polytechnic and its diabolically bad drama society, they give us a bank robbery that goes right . . . well sort of right in that there is a bank and there is a robbery.

It is a change of direction for Michief: instead of a play relying on bad acting and defective props for laughs here we have wit, brilliantly fast and inventive wordplay, which must have been the devil to learn, and superb physical comedy and timing in a sort of mangled 1950’s B-movie crime caper.

Written once more by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, this is laugh a minute stuff as we open in prison with hard man Mitch Ruscitti, played by Birmingham-born actor Liam Jeavons, plotting an escape and bank robbery assisted, as in hindered, by guard Neil Cooper, who has been in amateur dramatics and is played as camp as you like by David Coomber. Half the prison turn up to join the gang in a scene packed with some  lovely Airplane style word play – just don’t say Neil . . .

The breakout complete, the bank robbers head for the run down, corrupt, high graft, low security, Minnesota City Bank run by dodgy Robin Freeboys, played curmudgeonly old man style by Damian Lynch, readying his bank to hold the Prince of Hungary’s $500,000 diamond. 


Liam Jeavons as Mitch and Damian Lynch as Freeboys discuss the merits of the hardness of various objects on Jon Trenchard's Warren's head.

Great comedy lives for ever and there are shades of the old Abbot and Costello Who’s on first routine – on speed and in superdrive - as the FBI’s bank inspector Randal Shuck, played with a constant air of frustration – of all sorts – by Killian Macardle, tries to find Mr Freeboys, by asking pickpocket and con artist Sam, played loveable rogue style by Seán Carey.

With three men (boys) nearby, including Roger Freeboys, and a hunt for Robin Freeboys, that’s all you need to know for five minutes of misunderstandings and quickfire laughs.

Roger, the dim security guard, is played by George Hannigan in what is his professional debut, although you would never guess that without being told. He plays pretty well everyone else including the three lovers – or rather meal tickets – of Freeboy’s daughter Caprice, played by Julia Frith. His fight between the three, playing all parts, is a comedy gem.

Back in the bank there is Jon Trenchard as Warren, a weedy little man, aged 67, and a sort of chief clerk who has been an unpaid intern for more than 30 years. He probably spends as much time unconscious, or being battered unconscious, as he does banking.

Then there is Ruth, Sam’s mother, played by Royal Birmingham Conservatoire graduate Ashley Tucker, an understudy stepping in to make the part her own on home turf, and what a voice! She believes everyone in the city is a crook, and, bless her, goes on to prove it.

Ruth, or rather Shuck's lust for her, is the only reason the bank passes the FBI banking test, although we do discover that rank in the FBI is dependent on moustache size . . . bet you didn't know that.


the robbery

Liam Jeavons' Mitch and Julia Frith's Caprice hang around waiting for Seán Carey's Sam to key in the alarm code.

Any gangster tale needs a broad and a romance so we have Sam and Caprice conning each other in a love affair. The only snag is that Mitch is Caprice’s not quite so ex, so with his return we have a ménage a trois which involves Sam, the lover, hiding or avoiding Mitch in various disguises, a pull down bed with a mind of its own, Frith looking like a demented windmill in shades of TV show Give us a Clue, Warren in a cupboard and a . . . flock of seagulls – don’t ask.

Then there is the robbery, which involves no less than three Robin Freeboys, with and without trousers, and a brilliant perspective routine as we look down from above on Freeboys and Warren, balanced precariously on the vertical back wall, a clever gag with a twist at the end.

The robbery itself has shades of Rififi, in triplicate, with laughs, and instead of silence . . . a lullaby.

At times Mischief turn comedy on its head, for instance, we are not supposed to laugh when someone dies, it really is bad form, but, here a sad demise gets a brilliantly worked build up to earn one of the biggest laughs of the night.

The setting and design by David Farley is flexible and clever assisted by David Howe’s lighting and we even have songs from bluesey jazz to gospel, led by brother Warren,  from musical director Joey Hickman. Originally directed by Mark Bell and kept on track by Kirsty Patrick Ward, this not only broadens the repertoire of Mischief but can only enhance its reputation for gold standard comedy. It is fast paced, physical, witty clever, superbly funny and . . . splendidly daft. It would be a crime to miss it. To 08-09-18.

Roger Clarke


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