Wannabe criminal mastermind Steph (Matthew Lanigan) is so confident of success that he allows his dim-witted friend Barry (David Crowley) to take part in a meticulously planned burglary. But discovering the householder’s dead pet is just the first sign that things are not going to plan.
As they wait for their accomplice Steph and Barry pass the time telling jokes and quizzing each other on film trivia. This might be intended to be provocative –to outrage the audience with a casual attitude to a criminal act – or set a deceptively light mood that can be overturned later. But the jokes are just strung together, rather than used to develop a consistent atmosphere, which makes the technique feel contrived. The whole first act is not so much leisurely as unnecessary; Thick as Thieves doesn’t really get going until the second act.
Director Ian Curley takes a naturalistic approach that downplays the farcical elements of the play and mutes the opportunity for dark comedy. The degree of urgency that Curley brings to the second act emphasises the lack of momentum in the first. Both writer Mark Whiteley and his director seem unable to decide if their play is a straightforward comedy or a dark farce so the elements of danger that creep in towards the conclusion are not convincing.
Subtle elements of Mark Whiteley’s script are swamped by excess padding. He drops plenty of clues that Steph is far from a criminal mastermind (he doesn’t wear gloves in the break-in for one thing). But the possibility that Steph might really believe himself to be smarter than the average burglar is buried under all the inconsequential jokes. So the comic potential of Steph getting out of his depth is not fully realised.
Matthew Lanigan and David Crowley give a fine pair of sharply contrasting performances. Lanigan has the edge of someone whose self-belief is gradually slipping away and a vivid edge of desperation that makes the darker twists of the play credible. Crowley’s approach is lighter but just as valid introducing broader comedy aspects and a level of incomprehension that borders on innocence.
There is plenty of potential in Thick as Thieves but a more streamlined production might be needed to show it to best effect.