A poster for the production of Bob The Russian by Naughty Corner Productions playing at The Unity Theatre.

When I left the Unity Theatre with my friend, I asked, “How do you review that?” If it had been pure entertainment I could look at how Bob The Russian had catered for a mixed age group both with the spread of jokes, references to popular culture and sheer spectacle.

If it had been an issue-driven play I would have praised the writers and director for deftly handling the civil rights issues in Russia and our place in protesting about them. If it had been pure physical theatre I definitely would have praised the beautifully choreographed fight sequences and the ever-moving scenery. When a play does all this and more I could go on for days about all of the above.

Mikee Dickinson directs this Naughty Corner production, which must have been no mean feat considering the size of the cast and the number of elements included in the show. So often new writing is limited to a cast of 2 or 3, but this tight team have worked hard to gain a reputation for themselves and win full houses. The energetic performances were breathtaking.

The story begins with Bob (Adam Layland) being interviewed by the police. The atmosphere is one of menace as he recalls his role in a bank heist during the Russian world cup. He introduces each member of the unlikely team he chose to do the bank job in a style seen in the TV show ‘The Hustle.’

The first member being a failed magician, Lyles Larve (Adam Nicholls). Lyles provides the comic relief and reminds me of a young Johnny Vegas in his delivery. Demon (Liam Powell-Berry) is the next character to be introduced. He is a thug, constantly asking people to bring it on and revelling in the violence. Inhaler (Callum Forbes) is the safecracking rich boy that just wants to fall in love.

Then we have the pivotal character, Child (Daniel Hubbard). His Character is introduced amidst rounds of abuse from Demon about his pretty boy looks. He is brought into the group as the face of innocence, reminiscent of the film ‘Oliver.’ Finally, the Lara Croft of the group turns up, Rita (Laura Connolly), a badass fem-fatal who could charm the hardest heart.

The bank heist hits a snag when security guard Kevin (Warren Kettle) confides in Rita that the alarms will be turned off for repair on the night before the cup final. This is against the plan Bob has made so they need to cause a riot to get the alarm repairs moved to the day of the big match. They call upon Mafia boss Friend Zarin (Thomas Galashan) to help.

Friend is a bear wrestling, throat slitting macho man but he is also gay and trying to find the killers of his lover. At first, he wants to kill them all but Child gives an impassioned speech about the abuse of homosexuals in Russia, which saves the gang.

The riot takes place before our eyes with great ensemble work from Thomas Heyes, Sam Brown, Mike Manning, George Wills, Aaron Cork and Jacob Simpson. Laura Connolly shows off her dance credentials as she is thrown around the stage. In the midst of all the fighting tragedy strikes and the mood changes. They lose a team member but go ahead with the heist.

Some hilarious mask work lifts the mood again and with interludes from bank workers Olga (Faye Caddick) and Crute (Megan Bond,) occupying each other with decision games, we see how the heist plays out. As it all goes horribly wrong we are brought back to the original interrogation scene and the big reveal of what Bob had really planned. The twist is unexpected and plays back on the civil rights issues introduced by Child.

With running jokes, a great soundtrack, well-rounded characters and smashing dance scenes; Bob The Russian was bound to be a winner. Although it was a great piece of theatre, this play could so easily be a film. In my head, I could see what it would look like in that form.

If I was nitpicking, I would say that perhaps some of the more hackneyed jokes could be played down a little and the running time was perhaps a little long but these are very minor things that subtract very little from a brilliant evening at the theatre. A fantastic team on and off stage, deserving 5 stars all round.

Sharon Colpman

Sharon has worked in education for most of her life. In 2001 she helped launch a theatre group in Hampshire focusing on the local community. Upon moving back to the North West, Sharon launched Make it Write, an organization dedicated to help new writers particularly writing for performance.