No one could accuse Max and Ivan of lacking ambition. Following a successful go at the Sherlock Holmes juggernaut last year, they’ve launched themselves into the world of the heist blockbuster, bringing together a gleeful array of characters, countries and action scenes into one, chaotic but surprisingly easy to follow comedy.
A terrible threat is afoot, as an evil mastermind establishes a casino named Philanthropica in Las Vegas that would be better named Misanthropica, thanks to its cunning scheme to syphon money off unfortunate winners and losers alike. The initial ring-round that brings our heroes together is a masterclass in speed-characterisation. In a highly enjoyable fifteen minutes, a reunion plot line familiar to the opening scenes of anything from the Avengers Assemble to The Muppets is sent up by a motley collection of characters, keen to do anything for a bit of cash – I mean, for the love of adventure and the old gang. A scene in HR sees the erstwhile Magpie revel in an excruciating parody of office life, where ‘you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps’ is both mug and hourly mantra. Meanwhile, socialite hacker Lavinia is sustained by memories of a hilariously complex porn career, old soak The Architect makes free with the audience’s drinks, and Raoul the getaway driver struggles with his unreciprocated love for explosives whiz Tim, all haunted by memories of their last botched job at Monaco – except The Architect, who can’t remember a thing.
The show is all the more enjoyable from the sense that it is seconds away from spinning out of Max Olesker and Ivan Gonzalez’s obviously capable hands, with a dazzling eight-way phone call in particular highlighting the incredible distinctiveness of their voices, making even one word conjure up a character. On the performance I saw, even two raucously chatting drunk women couldn’t detract from the onstage mayhem before their summary and much-applauded eviction. Audience participation injects a carefully judged note of improvisation into an otherwise immaculately planned hour, well controlled even when the contributors are on the perverse side. Visually, this is a simple and stripped down show with the only moment of prop-fuelled extravagance coming from a smoky game of laser dodge; just two men, on stage, sweating to entertain an audience who are in hysterics from start to finish.
Moments of Max and Ivan’s satire have real bite; in particular, anyone unimpressed by Lisbeth Salander’s hacking technique will chuckle at Lavinia’s imperious cry ‘Bring me the internet!’ and her claim to have solved it in seconds, while ’50 Shades of Grey’ as read by Alan Bennett is a soundbite once heard never forgotten. At times there is a sense they could safely push their writing to be a bit darker, a bit spikier, without losing their edge; we care about the characters, and they could be put in greater danger to really ramp up the tension. Still, this show is an hour of pure joy, and its hard to imagine the audience member too young, too old, or too sour-faced to be moved by its hilarious parody of a much-mined genre.
**** – 4/5 stars
Max and Ivan are … Con Artists is playing at the Pleasance Courtyard as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until 27 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.