Mischief Theatre

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Mischief Theatre
Formation2008; 16 years ago (2008)
TypeTheatre group
PurposeComedy
Location
  • United Kingdom
Artistic director(s)
Henry Lewis
Jonathan Sayer
Henry Shields
Websitehttps://mischiefcomedy.com/

Mischief Theatre is a British theatre company that was founded in 2008 by a group of students from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in West London, and directed by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields.[1] The group originally began by doing improvised comedy shows, but by 2012 they expanded into comedic theatrical performances that includes choreographed routines, jokes, and stunts.[2]

The company is primarily known for their comedic performances as the fictional theatre company, The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, enacting amateur performances that go wrong. Works by the company includes the award-winning 2012 stage play The Play That Goes Wrong and the BBC television series The Goes Wrong Show. Several of the stage performances by the company have been shown in the West End of London, and also in theatres across the United Kingdom, North America, and Europe.

History[edit]

Mischief Theatre was formed in 2008 by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, while the three were studying in a drama foundation course at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.[3] The founders selected the company's members, most from those attending the same course, including Dave Hearn, Nancy Zamit, Bryony Corrigan, and Niall Ransome.[4] The company conducted its first performance, Let's See What Happens, at The Questors Studio Theatre in July 2008,[5] which they later performed at The Edinburgh Festival the following month.

In 2012, Lewis, Sayer, and Shields devised the script for The Play That Goes Wrong, originally titled The Murder Before Christmas[6], a comedic play based on the real-life situations regarding accidents and problems that can occur in stage productions. With the play, the company branched into choreographed performances, including stunts and jokes. The play premiered in London later that year, then went on to multiple UK tours and was featured at the 2015 Royal Variety Performance show. Lewis, Sayer, and Shields continued to devise new shows for Mischief Theatre, either based on improvisational comedy or scripted performances, including Lights! Camera! Improvise!,[7] Late Night Impro Fight,[8] and Mischief Movie Night.

The play Peter Pan Goes Wrong made its premiere at the Pleasance Theatre in London in December 2013 before touring the UK in 2014. The production transferred to the West End in London at the Apollo Theatre for a Christmas season run in 2015.[9] In 2016, Mischief Theatre was approached by the BBC to conduct a televised Christmas special consisting of an adaptation of the stage play. The Peter Pan Goes Wrong adaptation proved a success, with the BBC later commissioning the company to develop a new Christmas special in 2017, A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. The Goes Wrong Show, a comedy television series created by Mischief Theatre, premiered on the BBC in December 2019. The second season of the series premiered in 2021.

On 1 April 2020, Mischief Theatre began a weekly podcast titled "Mischief Makers", which focused on the members of the Mischief Theatre.[10] During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mischief Theatre put on improvisational comedy shows (Mischief Movie Night) in open-air venues in late August and early September.[11] They briefly took the show to the Vaudeville Theatre in December before a national lockdown caused venues to close, forcing their planned schedule to be cut short. To compensate for this, the company conducted their show online, under the title Mischief Movie Night In.[12][13]

The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society[edit]

The company is most well known for their series of "Goes Wrong" productions wherein they portray the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, struggling to perform amateur shows as they slowly fall apart. In-universe, the troupe is composed of university students who spend their free time outside of classes producing shows, though in recent years their televised work has been supported by the BBC.[14] For non-European audiences, they are presented as the Cornley University Drama Society.

The characters are maintained across all of the company's "Goes Wrong" productions (with the exception of Magic Goes Wrong), and their personalities are fleshed out over time. Members of Mischief therefore portray their Cornley characters while also portraying the characters of whatever play they are doing in-universe.

Chris Bean[edit]

Chris Bean (originated by Henry Shields) is Cornley's director and often lead actor. At the helm of most of the troupe's often complicated productions, he is consistently exasperated by his fellow members and the mistakes that inevitably happen, though he is not above the occasional slip-up as well. He views his work as extremely serious and gets hot-headed when others regard it as silly and fun.

Robert Grove[edit]

Robert Grove (originated by Henry Lewis) is Cornley's wannabe lead actor, who is frequently at odds with Chris over leading roles. He is bold and brash, believing that the key to a good performance is to simply be louder than everyone else. His niece Lucy is introduced in Peter Pan Goes Wrong and he is often shown as being incredibly critical of her performance.

Dennis Tyde[edit]

Dennis Tyde (originated by Jonathan Sayer) is a supporting player within the troupe, though his inability to remember his lines often means he is relegated to playing objects rather than people. The Play That Goes Wrong establishes his stage fright and embarrassment over mistakes, but in succeeding productions he has been characterized more by his extreme forgetfulness and obliviousness instead.

Sandra Wilkinson[edit]

Sandra Wilkinson (originated by Charlie Russell) is Cornley's lead actress. Like Chris, she is a straight man, often getting annoyed when her fellow actors make mistakes, but is not immune to them. She has a habit of sneaking seductive looks to the audience or camera, which can undermine the dialogue she says before them or her character in general. Her love life with a few of her fellow actors becomes a recurring plot point across productions.

Jonathan Harris[edit]

Jonathan Harris (originated by Greg Tannahill) is a supporting player within the company who often juggles several roles. He plays the lead in Peter Pan Goes Wrong, but in A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong and from then on, his bit roles are characterized by his inability to perform properly due to certain circumstances. He is involved in a few love triangles across the Goes Wrong productions.

Max Bennett[edit]

Max Bennett (originated by Dave Hearn) is another supporting player who often gets distracted by the audience. He is actually one of the best actors of the troupe when not busy hamming it up for the audience, but is usually cast in supporting roles. Along with Dennis, he is one of the kindest and most innocent members of the troupe, most evident in subplots revolving around his ability as an actor or his love life.

Annie Twilloil[edit]

Annie Twilloil (originated by Nancy Zamit) starts off as Cornley's stage manager in The Play That Goes Wrong, but in subsequent productions has been promoted to supporting actress. Like Jonathan, she also tends to juggle several roles in a single production, and is often required to play men as well.

Trevor Watson[edit]

Trevor Watson (originated by Rob Falconer) is Cornley's technical director who later doubles as stage manager when Annie becomes an actress. Though he works behind the scenes, he always somehow makes his presence known; he also occasionally steps up when the troupe is in need of additional actors. He is portrayed by Rob Falconer in The Play That Goes Wrong, but in subsequent productions is played by Chris Leask.

Vanessa Wilcock-Wynn-Carraway[edit]

Vanessa Wilcock-Wynn-Carraway (originated by Bryony Corrigan) is the latest addition to the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as another female player, introduced in The Goes Wrong Show. Her work in the troupe is often characterized by being injured frequently during productions as well as a paralyzing inability to improvise, which only makes things worse when mistakes require it of her. Prior to Vanessa's introduction, Bryony Corrigan was an understudy for The Play That Goes Wrong; she later played a stagehand in Peter Pan Goes Wrong and the BBC receptionist in A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, though it is unknown if these are all separate characters.

Stage productions[edit]

The Play That Goes Wrong[edit]

The Play That Goes Wrong is a play by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields.[15] It premiered at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London in 2012,[16] moved to Trafalgar Studios in 2013,[17] toured the UK and internationally in 2014 and opened to the Duchess Theatre in the West End on 14 September 2014. In the play The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society attempt to put on a 1920s murder mystery, but the performance is beset with disasters and the accident prone cast struggle through every scene.

It won Best New Comedy at the 2015 Laurence Olivier Awards and Best New Comedy at the WhatsOnStage.com Awards in 2014[18]

Its run in London's West End at the Duchess Theatre has been extended multiple times, and is still currently running.[19]

The play opened on Broadway in New York City at the Lyceum Theatre in April 2017 with the original West End company. It closed on Broadway in January 2019, before immediately moving to the Off-Broadway theatre New World Stages and reopening in February 2019, where it still continues to run. The Broadway company was followed by 2 North American touring companies and a sit-down production at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse. From July 2023 to August 2023, a short sit down production will take place at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center.

Foreign language productions of The Play that Goes Wrong have also been presented in France [20] and in Poland from 3 February 2024 in Teatr Variété in Cracow.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong[edit]

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a comedy play by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields in the 'Goes Wrong' range. It premiered at the Pleasance Theatre in London in December 2013 before touring the UK in 2014 and 2015,[21] and in December 2015 it opened at London's Apollo Theatre.[22] Following widespread critical acclaim, Peter Pan Goes Wrong returned to the Apollo Theatre for a limited run from 21 October 2016 – 29 January 2017.[23][better source needed]

The play is adapted from the original stage play Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie and in it the inept and accident prone Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society set out to present the classic tale of Peter Pan with comical and disastrous results.

The production was nominated for two Off West End Awards in 2013 for Best Production [24] and Best Ensemble.[25]

Peter Pan Goes Wrong made its Broadway debut at the Barrymore Theater on 17 March 2023 (with an opening date scheduled for 19 April 2023) featuring a majority of the original company, and a number of US Mischief alumni.

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery[edit]

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is a comedy play, written by Lewis, Sayer and Shields.[26] The play opened at the West End's Criterion Theatre on 31 March 2016, with an official opening night on 21 April 2016. The production closed on 15 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Original cast included: Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, Jonathan Sayer, Nancy Zamit, Dave Hearn, Charlie Russell, Greg Tannahill, Jeremy Lloyd and Chris Leask

The play is directed by Mark Bell, with set design by David Farley and costume design by Roberto Surace.[27]

Lights! Camera! Improvise! and Mischief Movie Night[edit]

Lights! Camera! Improvise! is an improvised comedy show format devised and performed by Mischief Theatre.[28] The show was first presented at The Edinburgh Festival in August 2009[29] and has since been performed across the UK and internationally as well as at The Duchess Theatre in the West End.

In the show a film collector named Oscar invites the audience to suggest genres, locations and a title for a film which he then finds in his extensive DVD collection. A company of six or seven performers then improvise a longform narrative based on these ideas under the direction of Oscar.

In 2013 the production won a Spirit of the Fringe Award at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.[30]

In 2017 the show, renamed Mischief Movie Night, began a limited run at The Arts Theatre in London's West End.

In 2020 Mischief Theatre began live-streaming semi-regular performances of Mischief Movie Night In during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vaudeville Theatre residency[edit]

In September 2019, Mischief Theatre began a yearlong residency at the Vaudeville Theatre in London's West End, alongside the long-running productions of The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About a Bank Robbery.

Groan Ups[edit]

Groan Ups was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, and was the first production of the residency, running from 20 September until 1 December 2019, featuring the original Mischief company and directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward.

Magic Goes Wrong[edit]

Magic Goes Wrong is a collaboration between the company and Penn & Teller that combines the Goes Wrong formula with actual stage magic. The production began previews 14 December 2019, prior officially opening on 8 January 2020.[31] It had been extended to run until August 2020,[32] but the COVID-19 pandemic shut it down in March. The production reopens on 21 October 2021 at The Apollo Theatre for a strictly limited Christmas run.[33]

Additional Shows[edit]

Mischief Theatre returned to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August 2022. In addition to Mischief Movie Night, Mischief also presented Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle (which is based on a character in Magic Goes Wrong) and Charlie Russell Aims to Please, a solo show written and starring original company member Charlie Russell. Outside of the official Mischief productions, company members participated in Starship Improvise at the Festival, partnering up with fellow improv-comedy group Showstoppers, including Ruth Bratt. Bratt had appeared in three series of the BAFTA award-winning BBC2 series People Just Do Nothing.[34]

Mischief opened a revised version of Mind Mangler off-Broadway at New World Stages on November 19, 2023. Starring were original company members Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer.[35]

Television productions[edit]

Peter Pan Goes Wrong was adapted for a one-hour television special which was broadcast on 31 December 2016 on BBC One. It featured almost the entire original cast (with the exception of Rob Falconer) and guest starred David Suchet as the narrator.[36]

On 30 December 2017, A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong aired on BBC One, featuring both Dame Diana Rigg and Sir Derek Jacobi. Following the events of the previous year, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society have now been blacklisted by the BBC. Determined to get back on the air, they hijack a live broadcast of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.[37] The special was watched by a reported audience of 4.61 million.[38]

On 22 February 2019, it was announced the company would create a six-part BBC One series titled The Goes Wrong Show, starring the original cast and creatives behind The Play That Goes Wrong.[39][40]

The Nativity was the subject of the 2020 Christmas special.[41]

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong and The Goes Wrong Show were filmed at dock10 studios.[42]

Awards and nominations[edit]

The Play That Goes Wrong Nominations and Awards (UK and Broadway)
Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2014 WhatsOnStage Awards Best New Comedy[43] Won
2015 Broadway World UK Best New Play[44] Won
Olivier Awards Best New Comedy[45] Won
2017 Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards Favourite New Play[46] Won
Broadway World Best New Play[47] Won
Drama League Awards Best Play Nominated
Drama Desk Awards Outstanding Scenic Design of a Play Nigel Hook Won
Tony Awards Best Scenic Design of a Play Won
Outer Critics Circle Awards Outstanding Set Design Nominated
2019 Broadway World Funniest Play of the Decade[48] Won
Lucille Lortel Awards Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play Matt Walker Nominated
Peter Pan Goes Wrong Nominations and Awards (UK and Broadway)
Year Award Ceremony Category Nominee Result
2013 Off West End Awards Best Production [24] Nominated
Best Ensemble [25] Nominated
2016 Olivier Awards Best New Comedy[49] Nominated
2023 Drama Desk Awards[50] Best Direction of a Play Adam Meggido Nominated
Best Costume Design of a Play Roberto Surace Nominated
Unique Theatrical Experience Won
Outer Critic Circle Awards[51] Outstanding New Broadway Play Nominated
Outstanding Scenic Design Simon Scullion Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Play Adam Meggido Nominated
Drama League Awards[52] Outstanding Production of a Play Nominated
Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards[53] Favorite New Play Won
Favorite Featured Actor in a Play Matthew Cavendish Nominated
Favorite Featured Actress in a Play Nancy Zamit Nominated
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery Nominations and Awards
Year Award Ceremony Category Result
2017 Olivier Awards Best New Comedy[54] Nominated
2020 Mousetrap Awards[55] Power of the Ensemble Nominated
Groan Ups Nominations and Awards
Year Award Ceremony Category Result
2020 Mousetrap Awards Spectacular Set Nominated
Magic Goes Wrong Nominations and Awards
Year Award Category Nominee Result
2020 Laurence Olivier Awards Best Entertainment or Comedy Play Nominated
2022 WhatsOnStage Awards[56][57] Best New Play Shortlisted
Best West End Show Shortlisted
Best Performer in a Male Identifying Role in a Play Henry Lewis Shortlisted
Best Supporting Performer in a Male Identifying Role in a Play Jonathan Sayer Shortlisted
Best Supporting Performer in a Female Identifying Role in a Play Nancy Zamit Shortlisted


References[edit]

  1. ^ "Peter Pan Goes Wrong to be broadcast on the BBC this Christmas". What's On Stage. 15 August 2016. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  2. ^ "Mischief".
  3. ^ "About Us". Mischief Theatre. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  4. ^ "The Play that Went Right: An interview with Jonathan Sayer". Retrieved 10 October 2021.
  5. ^ "Mischief Theatre on the theatre, the West End and things that go wrong!". Performance Reviewed. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  6. ^ Lines, Sarah. "The Murder Before Christmas - Old Red Lion Theatre". The Good Review.
  7. ^ "Lights Camera Improvise". Nimax Theatres. Archived from the original on 18 December 2014. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  8. ^ "Late Night Impro Fight". The List.
  9. ^ "Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Apollo Theatre)". What's On Stage. 10 December 2015. Retrieved 1 January 2018.
  10. ^ Mischief (1 April 2020). "Big Mischief announcement! We have a BRAND NEW PODCAST coming out NEXT WEEK! We can't wait for you all to hear it...pic.twitter.com/NOz8kJvcUo". @mischiefcomedy. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  11. ^ Mayo, Douglas (8 August 2020), Mischief Movie Night UK Tour – Book Tickets, britishtheatre.com, retrieved 29 March 2021
  12. ^ Thomas, Sophie (9 December 2020), ‘Mischief Movie Night’ begins performances at the Vaudeville Theatre, London Theatre, retrieved 20 March 2021
  13. ^ Thomas, Sophie (18 December 2020), ‘Mischief Movie Night’ to livestream performances in December, London Theatre, retrieved 29 March 2021
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  16. ^ "Sheer Schadenfreude: The Play That Goes Wrong at the Old Red Lion Theatre". One Stop Arts. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
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  23. ^ "Show". Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
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  25. ^ a b "2013: Full Run: Ensemble – Peter Pan goes wrong – The Offies". Retrieved 12 February 2023.
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  29. ^ Hawkins, Rowena. "Edinburgh Review: Lights! Camera! Improvise! – The Improvised Movie, Pleasance Courtyard". A Younger Theatre. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
  30. ^ "Edinburgh Fringe 2013 Awards round-up - who won what? | WhatsOnStage". www.whatsonstage.com. Retrieved 12 February 2023.
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  32. ^ BWW News Desk. "MAGIC GOES WRONG Extends Until August 2020". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved 16 March 2020.
  33. ^ Thomas, Sophie (21 September 2021). "'Magic Goes Wrong' announces West End casting, ahead of moving to Apollo Theatre". London Theatre Guide. Retrieved 19 October 2021.
  34. ^ Johnston, Rich (5 August 2022). "Dave Hearn Talks Starship Improvise, The Avengers Of Improv Shows". Bleeding Cool News And Rumors. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  35. ^ Hall, Margaret (20 November 2023). "Reviews: What Do Critics Think of the New Mischief Comedy Mind Mangler Off-Broadway?". Playbill. Retrieved 31 December 2023.
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  37. ^ "BBC One - A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong". BBC. Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  38. ^ "Weekly top 30 programmes: BBC 1 (SD+HD): 2017: December: 25 Dec - 31 Dec". Broadcasters' Audience Research Board.
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  40. ^ "BBC One - The Goes Wrong Show". BBC. Retrieved 12 January 2020.
  41. ^ "BBC announces a bumper crop of festive shows". www.bbc.co.uk (Press release). BBC Media Centre. Retrieved 9 April 2021.
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  51. ^ Culwell-Block, Logan (16 May 2023). "Some Like It Hot Dominates 2023 Outer Critics Circle Awards; See the Full List of Winners". Playbill.
  52. ^ "2023 Awards - The Drama League". dramaleague.org. 3 November 2022. Retrieved 8 July 2023.
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External links[edit]