Review: Small Time Criminals by Pop Up Playground

Amy Strike played Small Time Criminals in Melbourne. Here's what she thought.

Ever wanted to rob a bank? From the moment where you eyeball the building with a ‘the tougher they are the harder they fall’ smirk, to the moment when you get inside and hide under a table while the security torch slides over the wall behind you...there isn’t a person alive who doesn’t imagine a vicarious thrill in looking through the secret documents, and finding all the stashes of the dread bankers. Of course there will be gold bars, of course the managing director is involved in piracy and attempted world domination.

Small Time Criminals by Pop Up Playground was everything I was hoping it was going to be. We were met at a dusty side door by a stylish, sidelong sort of fellow who turned out to be our contact and (should we be successful) fence. We were given torches and a radio and shown how to access the bank. Our mission was to find a particular box, and steal as much loot as we could along the way. Unfortunately, the bank was not unguarded. A security officer would be patrolling the building, and we would need to complete the robbery while staying out of sight. Our contact had access to the cameras, and so could keep half an eye on the location of our security guard, and keep us safe. But he might get distracted while talking to us, and could only see the view that the cameras showed, so we were going to need to be vigilant to keep ourselves undetected.

We crept into the dark and silent reception area. The sense of a building left abandoned at night really made the burglary feel real. We quickly located the keys and broke into a manager office, sorting through suspicious papers and rattling locked drawers. Our contact on the outside told us that this particular manager was a bit paranoid, so we’d need to be careful not to trip any alarms…

While we were doing our best to break into a safe, the security guard came around for his first patrol. Hiding under a desk while the torch beam reflected off the opposite wall was one of the highlights of the game for me. I was sure we’d be caught. Our team mate was unprepared and tried to hide under a hung up coat. Luckily he was mostly in the shadows, and the security guard went away satisfied.

As we moved further into the building, we also moved further into the story. The workers at the bank each had their own worries, gripes, secrets and stories, with details left on computers, in drawers, kitchen cupboards and photographs. Once we got into the vault, we found another layer, with artefacts and treasures telling their own tales. This was a bank filled with corruption, but also boredom, history, addiction, romance and betrayal, backstabbing and nostalgia. Like all the best stories, there wasn’t time to explore it all. The security guard made regular patrols, and even as we’d find a tantalising new clue, the guard would appear and we’d end up wedged behind a filing cabinet, praying that we wouldn’t sneeze and hadn’t left anything incriminating out on a desk.

In the end, running short of time, we crept out with our bag full of loot and had to make our way past a sleeping security guard on tiptoes. We had brought out a good haul, and thanks to a couple of lucky bags of diamonds (found at the last minute in a mad rush) we had made enough money to retire from our life of crime. This was an absolute blast, and although I’m not sure I’m made for a life of crime (heart hammering, wedged behind a fridge with a bag full of gold bars, feeling guilty as sin), I enjoyed trying it on for size.


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