Mischief Theatre Company is an improvisation group, formed in 2008, whose production of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ received universal acclaim and recently moved to Trafalgar Studios from the gloomy recesses of fringe theatre. Two of their revolving troupe of actors- Jonathan Sayer, who is also the company director and Henry Lewis, the artistic director- talked to Performance Reviewed about the formation of a theatre company and the transition to the West End.
Here are their top five tips for aspiring actors:
Always do it today! Don’t wait until the morning
Because you might have to be up earlier than sunrise. Imagine waking up in Poland at 4am, being back in London at 10am and not leaving the theatre until after midnight. From the moment of meeting Henry and Jonathan two things become clear: 1) They have schedules that would make most adults cry, and 2) They are serenely calm. Everything about their shows is said in casual but caring manner, like parents who have brought up a successful child; proud, confident but still protective. And they’re not a company who wait around. As well as getting the West End Production up in astonishing time, they had prepared for the run of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ last Christmas in a very short period. Yet Henry points out ‘each time we’ve added little bits so that it’s always slightly changing’.
Enjoy the pressure and stress! It will be there either way
Upon hearing of their success at securing a place on the West End, Jonathan says that: ‘Hen did an announcement: “Welcome to the most stressful month of your life’. And this was no exaggeration. The company, as well as their recent trip to visit the improv scene in Poland, have been doing another show, all through their run of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. ‘Lights! Camera! Improvise!’ at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston. As well as the huge physical demands of doing both productions simultaneously, the sheer feat of organisation involved is tremendously impressive.
Trust your judgement and believe in yourself
Here Mischief Theatre has an advantage. Most of the cast members met at LAMDA and have known each other for years now. Their first show was called ‘Let’s See What Happens’ performed in the C Venues at the Edinburgh Fringe. After that they have, as Henry says ‘done bits and pieces in London’. Jonathan mentions that they are often asked ‘How are the productions so slick?’. He responds to that by saying ‘It’s because we’ve worked together for 6 years. All the writers live together. We spend so much time in each other’s company which I think makes a huge difference’.
Work in detail
Mischief Theatre worked hard to give the show what Jonathan calls a ‘professional, West End upgrade’. Preparations included hiring a costume designer and a lighting designer, improving the set, ‘a few rewrites, a few tweaks here and there’. Some of the more challenging aspects involved co-ordinating some of the more challenging stunts (these aren’t just gimmicks; some of the scenes had the audience gasping with concern). Cast members also have to remember a complex system in which a vast number of props are handed from every direction. Jonathan says that it’s ‘like you’re trying to do three different things at once’. But the level of detail is down to a tee until the run has ‘perfect timing… a real slickness to it’. Ironically, with such a huge amount of things to go wrong, it’s amazing that ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ goes right.
This goes without saying. As Jonathan says: ‘It’s a lot more fun than I thought it would be’. Watching Mischief Theatre Company at work is like watching people enjoy themselves on a professional level. There’s energy, there’s passion and from the audience there’s a little bit of jealously that they can’t be involved too. And the company have plans as well. Although not formalized the possibility of something else that goes wrong doesn’t seem too far away.
The Play That Goes Wrong’ will be continuing their run at Trafalgar Studios until the 1st June. Go and see it; you won’t regret it.
For bookings go to: www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-play-that-goes-wrong/trafalgar-studios/
For Mischief Theatre’s website: www.mischieftheatre.co.uk
And for their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/MischiefTheatre