Tag Archives: David Allen

A Woman Walks Into a Bank





“there’s lots of laughs. In a doleful, what-can-you-expect-this-is-Russia kind of way”

Roxy Cook’s A Woman Walks Into A Bank is a thoroughly delightful—yet pointed, in the way that Gogol’s Dead Souls is pointed—portrait of a corrupt and brutal society drunk on its desire for easy money. In this play the society under the microscope is Moscow in 2018, just after a very successful World Cup. But don’t go to Theatre503 in Battersea expecting elaborate sets and a cast of thousands. Cook and her talented cast of three manage to pull off this wide ranging satirical tale in a box set of a theatre. A box set that contains the enormous energy of this piece like some unstable star, threatening to blow its energy right off stage and take us with it.

As Cook explains in the introduction to the script of A Woman Walks Into A Bank, the play had a lengthy development period, starting with a workshop at the Park Theatre, and then a protracted gestation during lockdown. Recognition from playwrights’ awards such as The Women’s Prize for Playwriting, Brentwood and Verity Bargate prizes no doubt also helped writer and director Cook produce it. And Theatre503 is the perfect place for its premiere. If you think a small theatre with a small stage is an obstacle to putting on epic dramas that have important things to say about late stage capitalism, prepare to be astonished by A Woman Walks Into A Bank. And like all good Russian stories, there’s lots of laughs. In a doleful, what-can-you-expect-this-is-Russia kind of way.

The plot is quite straightforward. An old woman—and much of the dialogue contains a repetition of these three words as a way of introducing a new point in the narrative—an old woman walks into a bank. It is this simple act of walking into a bank that precipitates a free wheeling picaresque tale about three characters: the Old Woman, an ambitious young Banker, and a Debt Collector. Oh, and Sally, the Old Woman’s cat. The Old Woman walks into a bank because, as the narrative wisely observes, old women everywhere always need money. She is attracted by a picture of a friendly young man offering bank notes as an enticement to taking out a loan. In the bank she meets the Young Banker (a newly promoted clerk) who sets her up. In every sense of the word. The complicating factor in all this—apart from the fact that these loans are deliberately targeted at vulnerable people who have no means to repay them—is that the Old Woman does, in fact, have money. But she has stashed it in hiding places around her flat, and has, as an additional obstacle, forgotten that she has it.

You can see where all this is headed. And you’d be right—except that, through the adventures of the Old Woman’s cat Sally, the audience meets a whole range of Russian characters, human and feline, in A Woman Walks Into A Bank. We also get to see the adrenaline fuelled life of a cat living on the fifth floor of a high rise building in Moscow. As I said, it gets complicated. Through the energetic words of Cook’s script, her just-in-time style of direction, the precise, choreographed movements of her cast (Sam Hooper), and the intimate setting of Theatre503, the audience gets to experience all this as though they were also on stage.

The show belongs to that school of dramas where the action emerges spontaneously out of a narration, often told in the third person. This is a thing on London stages at the moment, and it is not always successful. It’s a way of staging that runs the risk of becoming just an act of telling a story, with little else for the actors to do. Fortunately for us, Cook and her talented team are skilled enough to avoid this pitfall. Actors Guilia Innocenti (The Old Woman), Sam Newton (The Banker) and Keith Dunphy (the Debt Collector) bring such inventiveness to the range of their roles that the energy on stage rarely flags. They are particularly effective when playing the same character at the same time. The set designed by David Allen, covered in carpet with all kinds of cut outs —rather like an advent calendar — reveals its secrets as the play progresses, and it’s another visual delight. Cook instructs her actors not to use Russian accents—again, a wise decision. But sound designer and composer Hugh Sheehan doesn’t hesitate to add a backdrop of Russian pop music and that helps to anchor the play in its Moscow setting.

A Woman Walks Into A Bank is not a Christmas play by any means, despite references to the (Russian Orthodox) Christmas Eve, but it’s a great way to start your holiday season theatre going. Book it while you can, because tickets are going to sell out fast.



Reviewed on 28th November 2023

by Dominica Plummer

Photography by David Monteith-Hodge


Previously reviewed at this venue:

Zombiegate | ★★★ | November 2022
I Can’t Hear You | ★★★★ | July 2022
Til Death do us Part | ★★★★★ | May 2022

A Woman Walks Into a Bank

A Woman Walks Into a Bank

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Lonely Planet – 3 Stars


Lonely Planet

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 15th June 2018


“David Allen’s intricate set design results in a space that is both intimately charming and frustratingly cluttered”


As part of Pride in London Festival 2018, Trafalgar Studios hosts the UK premiere production of Steven Dietz’s most widely performed work, Lonely Planet. The story follows the unlikely friendship between two men, Jody and Carl, in an unidentified city in 1980s America as they struggle with the disease that is beginning to decimate their community, AIDS.

The entirety of the play takes place in Jody’s map shop, full to the brim with an array of furniture, maps (of course), and a whole host of miscellaneous items. David Allen’s intricate set design results in a space that is both intimately charming and frustratingly cluttered, beautifully projecting the key metaphors embedded within the original text.

Both Alexander McMorran (Jody) and Aaron Vodovoz (Carl) bring the unusual friendship between both characters to life with a wealth of charisma and chemistry together. Whilst the underlying story within the play takes time to unfold, McMorran and Vodovoz waste no time in establishing their characters that quickly become familiar to the audience. This, in combination with the detailed set, hooks the viewer into the text emotionally despite the lengthy plot development. Whilst taking place in the 1980s, this production of Lonely Planet strives to highlight the parallels of stigmatisation regarding AIDS both then and today.

Throughout the limited run of the show, and building-up to London Pride, a weekly Q&A session is being held straight after the show with prominent figures in the movement sharing their experiences with AIDS. The Lonely Planet Speaker Series began with Jonathan Blake, an actor, activist and one of the first people to be diagnosed with HIV in the UK. This series, sponsored by Pasante and INSTI self-test kit displays how this particular run is so much more than simply the production alone.


Reviewed by Claire Minnitt

Photography by Richard Hubert Smith


Lonely Planet

Trafalgar Studios until 7th July


Previously reviewed at this venue
Strangers in Between | ★★★★ | January 2018
Again | ★★★ | February 2018
Good Girl | ★★★★ | March 2018


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