The first joke's in the title. It's literally dummies who are escaping here: a pair of shop mannequins who come to life when no-one's looking, and dream of a world beyond the department store, travelling the roads of Europe. It's an enticing hook for a fizzy, polished, uplifting comedy, which packs in plenty of high-tempo antics but tells a surprisingly thoughtful story, too.
What makes this student production so special is its swirling procession of character vignettes, each of whom is fully realised and lovingly drawn. In a series of high-energy set-pieces, the cast circle constantly round the stage, changing their costume and entire persona in the briefest of pauses behind a clothes-rail. Some characters, like the timid security guard or the amorous elderly shopper, have unexpected depth and touching stories of their own; but even the walk-on parts are clever pastiches, exaggerated yet oh-so-recognisable all the same.
The tale is told entirely without dialogue; if you're D/deaf, you'll miss a couple of jokes on the soundtrack, but it'll still be perfectly accessible to you. And it's to Nottingham New Theatre's credit that despite some relatively complex twists and motivations, both plot and characterisation remain crystal clear. There's no shortage of big comic tableaux, but an equal amount of fun lies in lower-key gestures – from the ridiculous pose the male mannequin strikes, to the subtle eye-rolls at the bumbling chaos which develops around them.
There are self-aware echoes of The Great Escape or Chicken Run, and a multitude of references to cinematic tropes to spot and enjoy. But it's tightly plotted, as well: a few seeds, slyly planted in apparently throw-away scenes, come to fruition in a satisfyingly overblown finale.
Throughout it all, there's one big question: will our pair of heroes, who start the show standing on distant pedestals, find love across the divide? And the answer is yes, of course they will. The highlight of the show for me is a tender dance to the tune of REM's Nightswimming, which starts off comically clumsy but evolves, almost imperceptibly, into something genuinely moving.
Very occasionally the pace dips for a beat, and this student company naturally don't have quite the maturity of stagecraft you'd expect from their more experienced peers. But there are some shows you enjoy so much, only five stars will do. And Escape For Dummies is an hour of pure joy – hilarious and giddy, yet with characters who make you care. Plan ahead for this one, because it's performing on odd-numbered dates only… and you'd have to be a dummy to miss it.