The good things about this show are many. It’s a quickfire celebration of the kind of knockabout comedy that the Marx Brothers did so beautifully decades ago. People come in and out of rooms, and every entrance or exit adds to the confusion of the story, as characters are mistaken for one another, trousers are dropped, and wordplay peppers the air. The Marx Brothers were known for their films, and they learned their craft on the stage, in the vaudeville era. The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is 21st century vaudeville, with laughs and songs, a ridiculous plot which exists to hang daft jokes on, and perfectly executed visual humour.
The staging is part of what makes it all work, though at least tonight it’s not actually working as it should. No matter – cast and crew take the technical issues in their stride. Rooms are set up and defined, to create a variety of locations – a prison, a bank, a top floor apartment, etc. The fact that we can identify those places so clearly is a tribute to the effectiveness of the show’s design, which morphs from scene to scene in line with the madcap story.
All good so far then – the performers are lively and committed, their physicality polished and energised, the musical interludes well executed. But there’s a fundamental problem too. While the show has a funny story, the script is patchy in the extreme. Some sequences go on far too long for minimal comedic return. And there’s just too much chat. Often it goes hand in hand with physical action that’s genuinely brilliant, but rather than allow that humour to speak for itself, an overabundance of dodgy dialogue has been spooned over it all.
The relentless nature of that approach also means that tonally the story feels pretty much the same regardless of what’s happening. Like chocolate cake? Here, have a big slice. With chocolate sauce and chocolate sprinkles. And here’s the rest of the cake to go with it.
Sometimes, less really is more.
None of this would matter if I was 11, but that boat sailed a long time ago. If you do have an 11 year old in your life, take them along and delight in their delight. Otherwise, you might find as I did that the balance of what’s working and what isn’t doesn’t tickle your pickle as the ensemble intend.
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is at Nottingham's Theatre Royal from September 25 2018 until September 29 2018.