Review: Twilight Robbery, York Stage Musicals, John Cooper Studio, 41 Monkgate, York

THE response to Twilight Robbery has been so positive that York Stage Musicals' artistic director, Nik Briggs, now hopes to present a brand new musical each year alongside the plethora of better known works.

This particular show began life as a York student piece by Joseph McNeice and Matthew Spalding, premiered at the Barn Theatre, Oxted, Surrey, in September 2018. Briggs then came on board to direct this revised version with an upgraded script and new songs by the bright and quick witted University of York graduates in its York premiere with a peachy cast of York regulars.

Rehearsals were briskly whisked – there have been so many York musicals on the boil this spring – but Briggs's company worked quickly and efficiently to bring Twilight Robbery to the stage: the kind of speed and efficiency needed to pull off the robbery at the centre of McNiece's musical comedy of three pensioners, two criminals and one diamond heist.

The setting is the Twilight Towers Residential Home for the Elderly –apparently one of the worst homes in West Sussex – where Joyce (Maggie Smales), Patty (Loretta Lynch) and Frank (Andrew Caley) endure the same humdrum routine day in, day out, but they don’t mind because all they crave is some peace and quiet.

Everything changes, however, when news emerges that the home is to be sold off to property developers and closed for good. Not content with sitting by, the aged residents hatch a daring plan to carry out a diamond heist and raise the cash to buy the home themselves.

Meanwhile, the home’s manager (Tracey Rea) has been acting suspiciously ever since she arrived from seemingly nowhere a few months ago. Playing the Miss Hannigan of the shenanigans, she is hatching a plan of her own, and stealing scenes too in Rea's terrific performance, topped off by the best solo song of the show.

McNeice, book and lyrics, and Spalding, music, are ostensibly "tackling the UK’s age crisis head on" by spotlighting "social issues such as the loneliness epidemic faced by many of the UK’s elderly". They certainly do this, but they do so in such an uplifting way, not least because they focus on a motivated group of old people that refuses to let age of self-doubt stop them from achieving new goals.

Last Of The Summer Wine may have done likewise, but it was never the last of Last Of Summer Wine, as it droned on and on, whereas there is a youthful freshness and plenty of surprises to Twilight Robbery.

In particular, McNeice shows a gift for both physical comedy and the humorous to and fro of quick-moving dialogue. A game of Bingo proves ripe for humour in the Two Ronnies sketch style, and the presence of rising talents Finn East and Josh Benson as a pair of on-the-make scallywags, who also handle the interval raffle, proves very fruitful too.

Briggs directs and choreographs with a relish for the comic possibilities at all times, while always being attuned to the touching side of the drama too. Jessica Douglas's musical direction brings out the myriad musical styles at work in Spalding's compositions, which have harmony and momentum aplenty with room for more individuality to take the songs to the Stiles & Drewe level.

Twilight Robbery is a very promising start, a musical with a heart, lively songs and funny lines aplenty. If you missed the May to 25 run, rest assured we'll be hearing more from Messrs McNeice and Spalding.

Charles Hutchinson