GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

The Wardrobe Theatre has become, de facto, the home of Bristol’s ensemble theatre. I speak of those shows whisked up by like-minded performers, often with a touch on the tiller by a ‘dramaturg’ or tame director, but which in essence are assembled during rehearsals rather than by the tireless tapping away during coffee drenched nights of the lone playwright. Results can be patchy.  Last night Scratchworks Theatre Company gave us an example of what can be achieved by the genre at its best.  If we’d been told the cast were in fact sisters there would have been no occasion for surprise: this is a company that sparks off one another, producing a creative familiarity that flows from their evident enjoyment with each other’s contribution – teamwork at its best.

Boiler suited and ‘up for it’ the team of four cleaners from Sparkle and Shine find themselves obliged to take a leading part in the greatest heist of the twentieth century having innocently gone to a remote farmhouse to clean up after the real crooks, post robbery.  Meanwhile the dodgy train driver who was supposed to take part by helping the gang of villains, found himself arrested for littering with intent by some very diligent policemen.  Luckily one of the cleaners had some form in train driving – thanks to her dad – and so the girls, under threat from the villains, having overheard more than they should have, get roped in on the holdup so tying them in as accessories before the fact.  Following up with a device as cunning as it is simple the cleaner ladies are not quite as diligent as they might have been in clearing up after the crooks.  The resulting police raid consequently turns up enough evidence to put the villains away (with notable exceptions) for a decent stretch leaving the ladies of Sparkle and Shine as the ones who got away with it …..or did they?

Sight gags, verbal gags, mime, song and breathless general silliness come tumbling out as Misses. Doble, Keen, Higginson and Kamen romp through a cast of dozens often changing character mid-step. A kazoo orchestra, making use of some willing audience participation, provided a Mission Impossible soundtrack (after a bit of practice) to a scene or two.  Other sound effects were provided to order a cappella. Imagination, creativity, wit and timing pack the hour with smiles, grins and guffaws in this relentlessly high energy and very funny show.  ★★★★☆   Graham Wyles   14th September 2017