Crooks 1926 is a hugely ambitious project where you are dragged headfirst into a London based gang who will guide you through an evening of carefully constructed mayhem. Bertie Watkins crafts the peak of Murder-Mystery with COLAB theatre’s daring production. All the tasks that’ll be thrown your way are balanced between fun and challenging. You’ll be slipped envelopes, offered the chance to plan a heist or told to calculate the statistics for the bets on horse races.
You navigate a rugged set, snooping around basement offices and back rooms. Attention to detail is sometimes lost, however this has no effect on the overall environment. You’re often pulled into a basement with a hessian ceiling where a wooden coffin lies central to the space or taken into a fortune teller’s office where hundreds of bottles and crystals line the walls. I imagine with a larger budget there may have been more opulent sets, however the ruggedness is well suited to this chaotic style of theatre. Lighting and haze frame central set pieces elegantly and the sound design is exceptional. The bass reverberates through the floor in moments where stakes meet their crescendo.
Costume is unfortunately hit and miss. The actors wear modernised 1920s styles which may have been more effective if pushed into the realm of stylistic interpretation. Again, a larger budget may accommodate more intricate outfits. This performance is not exactly historically accurate, albeit no less fun.
This performance is highly elaborate and tightly woven. The emotional fluctuations flow well and there is no dip to the excitement of the night. The narrative keeps you on your toes; the actors won’t let you catch a break and they may drag you aside for a secret task. The performers must work to facilitate the alterations of each working night which makes for a well-adapted and thrilling performance. Some audience members are assigned characters who are then woven into the narrative and provided the opportunity to play their part in shaping the experience. We’re graced with the thrill of a wedding, a boxing match and a game of Russian Roulette. All these events are interactive and enthralling.
The performers are breath-taking, and instances of ad-lib are hysterical. The two brothers played by Simon Pothecary and Angus Woodward have a fantastic drive throughout the show. Woodward’s commanding authority drives the audience into their places to complete their next task. The multi-roling is embraced as absurd, with accent slips and fast-costume changes. I commend these actors for championing the messiness of live theatre with open arms.
This show is entirely shaped by how you play it. If you provide the actors your open self and engage constructively with the tasks they set, you’re in for a treat. It is always rewarding to watch a piece of theatre where it is clear the performers enjoy what they are creating. Even after two and a half hours of solid acting, they’ll talk with you in the bar about your experience and the tasks you were made to complete. This is an excellently crafted, story-oriented experience. You’ll never have a dull moment during this show.
Crooks 1926 is playing the COLAB Pub until 29 March. For more information and tickets, visit the COLAB theatre website.