The comedy thriller is a volatile science, and many have been left with soot on their face in the process. Even that granddaddy of the form, Alfred Hitchcock, was “horrified,” on the release of Psycho, “to find some people took it seriously”. He may have found it “a big joke” but his audiences begged to differ, leaving showers across the country shunned. Two key composites to this tricky formula are an appealingly hapless protagonist and a palpably insidious antagonist. What Smoke and Oakum’s Tinderbox lacks in the latter it makes up for with the former, offering us not one but four colourfully bumbling characters, each buffoonishly heartfelt in their own way.
Penned by company founder and actor Oliver Forsyth, Tinderbox concerns a husband and wife team who, having lost everything to fictional bank Rowland ARS, find themselves camped beneath their fiscal headquarters, dead set on revenge. If only their stomach for saboteurism matched their thirst for vengeance: it soon becomes apparent that they couldn’t throw a tea-party with a 24hr thermos. For they have been led somewhat astray by a messianic underground leader whose rich rhetoric has been undone by some dodgy fact-checking. This alone is an intriguing set-up – but as the old writing adage goes, add someone who’s not meant to be there and the drama really takes off. Such is the case here when a bank employee unwittingly stumbles on the group’s doomed mission.
From this point onwards it is bamboozled clerk Mazzy, played with lovely bluster by Charlie Brixon, who hijacks most of the laughs, and the badly laid plans go further awry. Forsyth’s Simon develops admirably from arachnophobic freedom-fighter to spanner in the revolutionary works, at one point amiably listing terrorist organisations which are not, in Mazzy’s words, “Arab-y”. Sadie Parsons’s Kelly does a solid job keeping the tension in check, while James Barbour’s Michael is a pompous delight as the enigmatic, polo-necked leader. The script swells along under Sam Carrack’s direction and the writing is both witty and worldly. This company of East 15 graduates throw themselves into the story with dedicated flair, and even if the logistics of the plot are as creative as a corporate tax return, the characters themselves are well worth spending an hour in the company of. Tinderbox may not quite go off with a bang, but it ticks along nicely. And, as Hitchcock said, there is no terror in the bomb – only in the anticipation of it.