You can imagine the movie poster for The Sunset Five. Cast of misfits swaggering uncertainly towards the camera, a tabloid hack excitedly declaring it “the best British comedy in years”, the tagline “pub quiz meets high stakes heist”. It’s in that underdog tradition of self-deprecating British cinema, half in love with Hollywood tropes while brandishing them with irony. It’s having its cake and eating it – probably with a nice cup of tea.
DugOut Theatre’s new show is to Ocean’s Eleven what Sean of the Dead was to the zombie genre. No George Clooney types here. Its heist takes place not in Las Vegas, but in the small East Anglian town of Chipworth, an end-of-the-train-line sort of place. Watching as someone who grew up at the end of a train line, the community sketched by the company is instantly, smilingly familiar, from the painfully middle-class pleas for a glass of “ree-OH-ha” to the competitive excitement of the weekly pub quiz. And at its heart is The Sunset, the loveably rundown local boozer where everyone gathers to scratch heads over the picture round.
We arrive at the pub as it’s under threat from avaricious local businessman and all-round baddie Mickey. To save The Sunset from destruction, landlady Charley and her fellow pub quizzers have to raise £80,000 in a month. Or, y’know, just casually rob the vault of Mickey’s casino. After their fundraising efforts fall flat, the egg-headed quartet (latest team name: Les Quizerables) plump for the latter, recruiting a willing local criminal and becoming the five of the title.
Cue montage sequences, slow-mo and an avalanche of gags at the expense of heist movies. Code names: check. Gadgets: check. Mission Impossible-style running-and-jumping sequence: check. There are few surprises, but DugOut Theatre are knowing enough with their use of old tropes to give them extra mileage. And for all the gleeful cinematic vocabulary, The Sunset Five never pretends not to be theatre. There are frequent nods to the audience, an arch approach to exposition and a stripped-back theatricality, laying everything bare. That’s not to mention the brilliant soundtrack, all played and looped on stage by DugOut’s six multi-talented performers.
It’s all as much fun, then, as you’d expect from a collision of small-town England and movie-inspired casino robbery. DugOut Theatre know what they’re doing. Each last element is just recognisable enough to raise laughs and just quirky enough not to be written off as derivative. Still, though, there’s a sense of missed opportunity, a wasted chance to transcend mocking homage. “You’re here because you’re capable of so much more,” quizmaster Fred tells us all at the opening of the show. Enjoyable as The Sunset Five is, it’s hard to escape the feeling that DugOut Theatre could also go further than they do here.