October 8, 2021
Mischief Theatre’s award-winning Olivier box office hit, The Play That Goes Wrong, quickly became a global phenomenon and is now the West End’s longest-running comedy.
He is currently on his fourth major UK tour – and about to take the stage at the Meeting room of October 19-24. His co-writer Jonathan Sayer reveals more about the dazzling success of this slapstick comedy
How would you describe the show to someone who hasn’t seen it?
It’s a comedy about a college drama group putting on a play and anything that could go wrong happens! There is a big cast, there are a lot of jokes, and he pretty much does what he says on the tin.
Who is Mischief Theater?
We started in 2008 as a group specializing in improvised comedy, but now we are creating a new comedy for theater and television. We started playing in Edinburgh and London and now bring our work to many different places around the world!
Where did you get the idea for The Play That Goes Wrong?
There are three writers, so there are a few different answers. I guess we’ve all worked in theater and things have gone wrong in the shows we’ve been in. Some of my favorite times while watching the theater have been when things have gone terribly wrong and the actors are forced to face the mistake and try to keep the show on track.
How did you create the script?
The three of us were living together at the time in a nice run down apartment in Gunnersbury. We all worked in bars, call centers and restaurants and in the evenings we would come home and write until the early hours of the morning. I think the initial script took about a month to put together and then we worked on the script with the rest of the Mischief team. Everyone’s done a lot of improvisation so we try to take those principles in the writing room and in rehearsal where if someone has an idea you take it and build it.
How would you define funny?
We all made a pact together a long time ago that if something wasn’t funny, we’d just say it’s not funny. I think writing a comedy is like plumbing – if some guy comes to fix your faucets and they’re still leaking, you say it’s still leaking. He won’t be upset, it’s just a practical thing and I think you should try to approach this job in the same way. It’s subjective and you have to have a personal distance. As long as you always review in a positive way, it will only make the job better.
You can be honest: Are the hapless actors portrayed based on someone in real life?
Ha ha! No one is directly usurped! The characters were all found rehearsing and performing in front of an audience. That said, we’ve all been a part of productions gone awry and we’ve all made mistakes on stage (although hopefully nothing quite as dire as in this play!) There’s a lot of experience on which one to lean on to find out who the characters are and how they react to embarrassment. Certain events in the play seem like an actor’s worst nightmare!
Did you get any feedback from the actors themselves?
Lots of actors come to us at the end of shows, whether professional or amateur, with fantastic stories of things that have happened to them in different productions. I think the show has a cathartic effect for them. But it’s not just the actors, I think the idea of making a fool of yourself in front of a lot of people is something everyone can relate to. Everyone’s felt that feeling where they want the field to open up and engulf them, so they side with the characters in the play and they really want them to get to the end of the show!
This show’s journey has been a rags-to-riches story. Did the show’s success surprise you?
Absoutely. I remember about 10 years ago I played in our improv show and there were more people on stage than there were in the audience so of course it is A suprise ! We were totally blown away by the response. We’re so thrilled that people are enjoying the work and the characters and that we were able to make so many different people laugh. The show started out so modestly in a 60 seat pub theater, so seeing it now in huge venues around the world is very humbling and wonderful.
Any particular memories of the creation of this piece in the history of the theater?
Over 35 countries around the world have produced mischief. We went to Budapest and watched a line from The Play That Goes Wrong where everything was exactly the same except it was played in Hungarian. So much has come out of this tiny little thing, and it’s amazing. assemblyhalltheatre.co.uk/whats-on/the-play-that-goes-wrong