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Brighton Fringe 2017

Great Train Robbery

Scratchworks Theatre Company

Genre: Absurd Theatre, Clown, Comedy, Physical Theatre

Venue: The Warren: Main House


Low Down

In the early hours of Thursday 8th August 1963, the heist of the century is under way. Signals are scrambled, phone lines cut and millions of pounds of cash – stolen. Five days later the first clues are found, the gang is busted and the rest is history. But what about the ones that got away?


As a Royal Mail Train was travelling from Glasgow to London in the early hours of Thursday, 8 August 1963, at Bridego Railway Bridge, near Mentmore, Buckinghamshire, it was halted by a gang of sixteen thieves who proceeded to pull off one of the most infamous crimes in British criminal history, which was soon to become known as The Great Train Robbery. A massive £2.6 million pay-out was their reward which equates to circa £15 million in today’s money. Although most of the thieves were caught, what no-one has realised to this day is that apparently, accompanying the sixteen were a group of four women cleaners, originally hired to clean-up after the gang had divided the loot and left a nearby farmhouse. But on hearing the value of the heist they all felt there was little option but to join in crime and this is where the fantasy and fun begins!

Through an ingenious mix of clowning, physical theatre and wonderful singing, this comic four shed new light on ‘what really happened’ and ‘how they participated.’

As you might expect, the four play something like forty-four different roles as they tell their story ably supported by audience members who are commandeered to join in parts of the show. However, despite their surprise at being picked, they were handled well by the cast and there was little sense of awkwardness and more of fun.

The physical theatre really is very physical and barely a moment passes without the four expending vast amounts of energy as they tamper with signals, simulate whole trains in movement and continually change character. What a palaver it all becomes!

There is much to admire in this piece of theatre but I did long to see a moment or two of shade as well as light and sadness is something that clowning can also portray very well. This could have been used to portray the violent bludgeoning of the train driver which left him with life changing injuries and made the crime so much more infamous. A moment or two of tragedy would have given a good contrast to the high-energy fun and added more depth to the piece.

However, after blending into a Ladies Institute gathering to escape the police chase, the four decide they are only at the commencement of a career of skulduggery, and under the guise of cleaners they vow to make it their life’s purpose to steal whatever and wherever they can, setting their sights on the British Museum and other places where valuable assets can be filched.

A great deal of creative work has gone into this piece and I doubt you will regret seeing it, should you wish to do so as it plays at the Brighton Fringe and tours nationally.