On a strikingly bare stage (with minimal props and a solitary guitar at the back) Alice Higginson strolled out (in character) and approached the audience. Spying my friend's snazzy jumper she began talking to him, warmly listening to his tale of woe (he is a member of the Green party and politics had not been his friend recently). She carried on round the audience, selecting the occasional member to chat to. This is how we are first introduced to Scratchworks Theatre Company, a wonderfully inventive group who, for the next hour, took the audience through the story of the Great Train Robbery.
Higginson is joined onstage by the three other core members of Scratchworks, Hanora Kamen, Laura Doble, and Sian Keen. Clad in a blue workers' attire, the cast retell the story of the Great Train Robbery, where £2.6 million was stolen from a Royal Mail train in 1963, through physical comedy, musical interludes, and audience participation. Told from the perspective of cleaners employed by the robbers, who are slowly drawn into the heist, the cast take on a multitude of parts, attempting to tell the many angles to the story they have constructed.
What makes the show so interesting is that it feels less concerned with the specifics of the heist, and more concerned with a far more universal story of the comradery of the four cleaners as they retell their story. With a story so oft told there feels little more you can gain from exploring the Great Train Robbery. Playing the story for laughs and focusing on a fictionalised element plays to Scratchworks' strengths as a company.
And their strengths are many. The songs are funny throughout, the physical comedy is slick, and the staging is consistently resourceful. The props in the show are limited and often reused; four kazoos turn into a train, a cleaning sponge is used as a bus. But where the show stood out was in the audience interaction, and the cast were adept at responding to whatever was thrown at them; from a baby in the audience shouting out, to a witness's inability to stop laughing. I was selected to play the kazoo along with four others and found myself stood onstage performing a rendition of 'Eye of the Tiger'. It made the evening all the funnier, and gave the show a charged, unpredictable energy that the four manipulated impressively. Each of the cast had moments where they stood out, but to reveal them here would ruin much of what make the show so enjoyable.
The Great Train Robbery is a hilarious show, if a smidge too long (trim 10 minutes and it would be perfect). I thoroughly enjoyed joining the kazoo choir pulled from the audience and the use of the audience as an additional character made us feel a part of the story. The cast work fabulously well together, with their energy propelling the show forward to its conclusion. Seek out Scratchworks and you will be rewarded by an ingenious company and a laugh-packed show.