The appropriately named Mischief Theatre have been making merry mischief with the West End since 2014 when their fringe-born hit The Play That Goes Wrong transferred to the Duchess, which went on to win last year's Olivier Award for best comedy and is still running, and is now Broadway-bound. Their second show Peter Pan Goes Wrong, which ran at the Apollo last Christmas, was also Olivier nominated. That, too, was honed via a pre-London tour; but now for the first time they are even more ambitiously not only creating a fully-fledged play, rather than a sequence of expertly choreographed mishaps, but also have opened the show 'cold' in the West End without a try-out first.
In an interview in the programme with Londontheatre.co.uk's Dom O'Hanlon, co-writer and actor Henry Shields says of the added responsibility, "There's pressure because it's so big and it's all new material - we have no idea if it's funny really, it's all completely new stuff, a brand new play opening directly in the West End."
They can rest easy: it is funny — very. Admittedly, there were times when I thought they might be enjoying their own jokes just a bit too much; some go on a bit too long. But it's a nice problem to have, and this show had me — and the rest of the audience — laughing merrily throughout.
And if it seems far-fetched, too, that a pair of crooks can plan a bank raid from their prison cell -- and then conscript most of their jailers as collaborators — we only have to think of the recent audacity of the Hatton Gardens safe deposit company heist, carried out by four elderly career criminals, to know that this stuff can and does happen.
But the only crime that Mischief would be guilty of is not making audiences have a good time, and they're determined to avoid any chance of being convicted of failing to achieve that. The show is one long blast of laughter, ricocheting around the auditorium and barely making it all the way around before another round is set off. Some of it is the script; a lot of it is the inspired lunacy and physical daring of Mark Bell's production; most of it is the stunning ensemble of company members who fearlessly execute it.
Like the Reduced Shakespeare Company, an American-formed troupe who took a had a nine-year West End run with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) — that also played at the Criterion — and later added 8 other 'abridged' shows including The Complete History of America (Abridged) and The Bible (Abridged) to their repertoire to create a comedy franchise. I doubt Mischief Theatre will be leaving the Criterion anytime soon.
"Is this a show that says smart things about the banking crisis? Not a jot. Does it deliver swag-loads of pleasure and thoroughly deserve to make a mint? Absolutely."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"In visual gags and physical slapstick ... the show is thrillingly and daringly inventive. There is also an astonishing perspective gag, in which actors remain vertical but are suddenly seen from above."
Mark Lawson for The Guardian
"The first half of Mark Bell’s production is laboured set-up; the second sees some slightly more fruitful mayhem in the bank."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard
"The entire cast is bang on the money, but Mischief Theatre’s own Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer are the standouts as booming bank manager Robin Freeboys and hapless loser (and eternal intern) Warren Slax."
Stewart Pringle for Time Out
"The cast produces a display of physical comedy and inspired wordplay that never flags for a second. The choreography of the set pieces is masterly, full of invention and surprises. Just when you think you’ve seen the highlight, they go and top it."
Tony Peters for Radio Times