Interview | Jonathan Sayer talks The Play That Goes Wrong.

*The interview is pre-written content provided by Belgrade Theatre.

The current cast of The Play That Goes Wrong. 
The Olivier Award-winning comedy sensation The Play That Goes Wrong is something I know of pretty well. I've seen the production twice, you can read one of my reviews here. It's been such a hit it is being sent back to Coventry from Monday 19 until Saturday 24 March as part of its brand new UK tour.

From its roots in Islington's Old Red Lion pub theatre, Mischief Theatre's side-splitting flare for entertainment has snowballed into an international sensation. It has received acclaim overseas as well as fantastic spin-offs on stage and most recently on the screen. In 2016 we sat down at Christmas to watch Peter Pan Goes Wrong (I wrote a review of that here) and in 2017 it was the turn of Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. On stage, it's in its fourth year in the West End, has become the longest-running play on Broadway and has been licensed to produce plays in more than 20 different countries too. It is no doubt then that Mischief Theatre are a force to be reckoned with and a company to watch out for. 

Ahead of the show's highly anticipated return to Coventry's Belgrade Theatre in March, the team caught up worth co-writer Jonathan Sayer to uncover some of the secrets to Mischief Theatre's success. On a side note, I was fortunate enough to chat with Jonathan when The Play That Goes Wrong performed at the Curve Theatre. It's great to understand more about the companies story and the unpredictability that their work entails also. 

How would you describe the show to someone who hasn't seen it?
It's certainly a play that does what it says on the tin! It's a comedy about a university drama society who try to mount a performance of an old school murder mystery that goes wrong in more or less every possible way it could. There are 6 actors, a stage manager and a techie who desperately try to get through to the end despite a lot of bad luck. I suppose it's about people overreaching to achieve something that they are not really capable of reaching - that's where a lot of the comedy comes from anyway. 

Who are Mischief Theatre?
I act as the Company Director and I run Mischief Theatre with our Artistic Director Henry Lewis. We are an ensemble group of actors and are democratic in the way we operate. Most of us met during a drama foundation course at LAMDA and the company was launched when we took our first improvised show to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. 

Where did you get the idea for The Play That Goes Wrong?
There are three writers so we all have slightly different answers. I would say the biggest influencers for the show would be Michael Green who wrote the Coarse Acting Plays and taught one of the writers, Henry Lewis, and a lot of the physical stuff comes from Keaton and Chaplin. A lot of the status play comes from Laurel and Hardy too.




How did you create the script? 
We started working on the piece after the Edinburgh Fringe festival in 2012 and the first draft took little over a month to complete. We all have slightly different approaches as writers, but we have a mutual passion for it and our background in improvisation makes a huge difference. We worked as an improvisation company for years and years and we try to take the ethos of improv into the writing room. It means we can try new things in rehearsal and the script can continually develop. Improvisation also helps you to keep in the moment and that allows us to maintain a sense of danger which is very important with this play. 

We all made a pact together a long time ago that if something isn't funny we'd say it isn't funny. I think writing comedy is like plumbing - if a guy comes round to fix your taps 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've got to try and approach this work in the same way. It's subjective and you've got to have personal distance. As long as you're always scrutinizing in a positive way, that's only going to make the work better.

You can be honest. Are the unfortunate actors depicted based on anyone in real life?
There's no one being directly spoofed! Their characters are people we have found in rehearsal. But, that said we've all been part of productions that have gone wrong and we've all made mistakes (although hopefully nothing as catastrophic as in this play!) so there's a lot of experience to draw on. 

Some of the events in the play seem like an actors worst nightmare! Have you had any feedback from actors themselves?
It's been interesting how many people have come up to us after a show and have told us stories about what happened to them on the stage and moments that have gone wrong. I think the play has brought back a lot of repressed memories for other actors! But for the audience too, I think the idea of being embarrassed in front of a huge number of people is something that everyone can relate to whether you're an actor or not so the jokes land quickly and the play resonates as a whole. Everyone has felt that feeling where they want the ground to open up and swallow them, so they get on side with the characters in the play. 

This show's journey has been a rags to riches story. Has the success of the show surprised you?
It certainly has been a surprise. I don't think anyone expected what happened with our shows to happen. We've always had a lot of confidence and belief in them but if I said I was expecting it I would be lying. We started out in a 60-seat theatre in a London pub so finding out more people wanted to see it, and that it would have a life beyond us being in it, that was incredible.

By the end of 2017, 35 countries worldwide had performed a Mischief Production. We went to Budapest and watched a replica of The Play That Goes Wrong where everything was exactly the same other than it was performed in Hungarian. So many things that have been born out of this very tiny thing, and that's amazing.

- interview ends -

You really should see the performance of The Play That Goes Wrong whilst it embarks on it's new UK Tour. It is at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry from Monday 19 until Sat 24 March. Tickets are available to book now by calling their box office on 024 7655 3055, or visiting their website www.belgrade.co.uk where prices are even cheaper!

If you enjoyed this insight into the show with the interview you can also read my review of The Play That Goes Wrong when it was last at Belgrade Theatre! 

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