Heist films are great, aren’t they? Whether it’s the effortless style of the The Italian Job or the precision of an Ocean’s film, heist movies amaze by tricking the audience as much as they trick the target they are ripping off. Titling a show Art Heist immediately conjures up enticing prospects: clever twists, quick, witty dialogue and ultimate excitement. Poltergeist theatre’s sophomore show doesn’t really pull off any of these things, focusing a little more on the art than the heist.
Beneath the spiralling chaos of this performance lies a gem of a very good show.
As if the start to some sort of wild role playing game, three actors hurriedly prepare themselves for the scenario. The utterly magnetic Alice Boyd narrates from on stage, an omniscient voice that somehow seems able to control and alter the situation. Here the show is at its strongest; fast paced and occasionally hilarious in throwaway lines. The sequencing of events is cleverly composed, and though its all just exposition at this point, its far too engaging to complain. Visually, director Jack Bradfield makes excellent use of on stage cameras to give options of which character to follow, and the production is effortlessly slick. Nothing is new, though – it’s all very much following well defined tropes of a somewhat exhausted genre – but the pace and energy are enough to stay interested, and presumably some twists are imminent.
The trouble is that said twists never drop. Poltergeist don’t appear to be concerned with that, though, focusing much more on art itself, and our relationship to it. Each character has a different motive for stealing this one special painting, none more intriguing than Rosa Garland’s character, who seems to have developed romantic feelings for the object. In breakaway segments, Boyd speaks to the audience as the museum security guard, setting the play on a path towards examination of self. Touching moments that linger in the vicinity of profundity arrive and leave again without fanfare. What’s more, as the show continues, the slickness from the beginning decays into confusing madness, giving up altogether by the end. The audience participation is about as far from revolutionary as is possible, and what was a promising start becomes a bit of tiring mess.
Beneath the spiralling chaos of this performance lies a gem of a very good show. In Poltergeist’s previous production Lights Over Tesco Car Park, the company pulled off the incredible feat of delivering an outlandish and enjoyable story, sewed together by heart and genuine emotion. Art Heist seems like the group are trying to recapture that magic, with far less success. The promise of the title is excitement, but this production fails to surprise or excite with any mislaid of immaculately explained revelation. Every set piece is performed with requisite energy and is pleasant to watch, certainly, but they are never mind-blowing, never pushing the boundaries too far. Instead, Poltergeist aim to heighten their production by beginning to investigate lofty themes such as loneliness, and appreciation of art. But every attempt to do so merely scratches the surface, distracted by those crime tropes the cast are forced back to again and again. If these are the themes under the microscope for Poltergeist, perhaps they should question whether a heist really the best situation to use to explore them?