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Posts Tagged ‘Mischief Theatre’

The international success of Mischief Theatre has been one of the theatre world’s great fairytales. The Play That Goes Wrong went from a room above a pub to 5 years in the West End, where it still runs, and almost a year on Broadway; I’ve lost track of the number of other countries it’s been staged in. There have been two more shows in the West End, with The Comedy About A Bank Robbery now in it’s 4th year and Peter Pan Goes Wrong back for Christmas, when they will have 4 shows in London running at the same time, with Magic Goes Wrong following this into the Vaudeville Theatre. They only left drama school c.10 years ago!

I was pleased they moved on from ‘goes wrong’ to have as much success with The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, a retro caper comedy that went straight into the West End, and they’re moved on again with this new show which, even though the trademark farce & physical comedy is still there, adds a lot of observational comedy. I really liked it.

The first act sees us in a primary school with five kids, played by adults in an oversized set, and the behaviour accurately reflects kids of that age; it’s very funny. In act two the same kids are teens in secondary school and we see how their archetypes have grown, if anything even funnier. In the final act we’re at a school reunion to see what they’ve made of their lives now that they’re in their early thirties. It’s still funny, but with more depth as we see how our early years mould us and make us, or not.

The five actors playing the kids growing up, all Mischief founders, are terrific at all three ages, with two other actors each playing two adult roles. On the night I went George Haynes was standing in for Jonathan Sayer, but you’d never know it. The set proportions get smaller as the characters get older and there are lovely running gags, most involving the school hamster. I thought it was an inspired idea to add a surprise performance after the curtain call. It might have a few less laughs than previous shows, but it’s got more depth, and I felt it shows the growth of the company as well as the characters they’re presenting.

The critical reception was lukewarm but the audience on Saturday seemed to love it. It may have improved since the press night (it appears to have lost 20 mins) and I would certainly recommend it. They’ve built up a loyal following and for me the secret of their success is that they combine consummate theatrical skills with good-time appeal to everyone of any age, offending no-one. Long may the fairytale continue.

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I often feel more positive about a show which has received indifferent reviews, though I never know if it’s the pressure of press night (never the best night to see a show in my experience), improvement as the run progresses or the difference between the view of people paid to be there against those who’ve paid to have a good time, and so it is again.

Sean Foley’s adaptation of the 1951 Ealing comedy, the screenplay of which got an Oscar nomination, moves it later in the fifties, but is otherwise faithful to the film; indeed, it feels very much a homage to the genre, still much loved, well certainly by me. One of the keys to their success was the celebration of the underdog, the outsider, the pioneer. In this case it’s the eccentric inventor whose invention threatens the livelihoods and wealth of others.

Cambridge chemistry graduate Sidney Stratton invents a stain resistant indestructible fabric which the mill owners at first embrace, until the potential impact on their wealth dawns on them. At the same time, the workers can see the threat to their jobs. The adaptation illustrates its timelessness and plausibility with clever references to oil. They try to pay off Sidney, and even use mill owner Birnley’s daughter Daphne’s allure to turn him. In the end, it’s the soundness of the science that seals the fate of the invention. There are other up-to-date references which bring a delightful cheekiness.

It’s played as broad comedy, and I thought it was great fun. Michael Taylor’s brilliant design moves us speedily from pub to factory lab. to mill-owner’s home to car ride to digs. Lizzi Gee’s choreography adds a sprightly feel. There’s skiffle music incorporated, with four members of the cast creating a live onstage band bringing a touch of knees-up to proceedings, playing original music by Charlie Fink. This is one of a number of features that reminds you of One Man, Two Guvnors. The cast’s enthusiasm is infectious, but its Stephen Mangan’s amiable charm and comic prowess that lifts it.

It’s a show to go to if you just want some fun, like those Mischief Theatre shows or One Man, Two Guvnors. It may not be up to the latter, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good night out. Find out for yourself.

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Coming full circle, Michael Frayn’s clever and funny subversive farce comes back to the theatre where it started 37 years ago. I’ve always had a soft spot for it, and subsequent productions – the NT in 2000, the Old Vic in 2011 – have confirmed it’s enduring power, as does this revival.

Frayn got the idea when he saw a short farce of his from backstage and realised it was even funnier, so he wrote a farce about a farce called Nothing On touring the UK. The first act is the final rehearsal, the ‘technical’, just hours before the premiere performance in Weston-super-Mare, the second is a month later in Ashton-under-Lyne at the midweek matinee, and the third is the final night of the three month tour in Stockton-on-Tees. The same act of Nothing On is performed in each act of Noises Off, except the second act is actually backstage during the performance. Still with me? As the tour progresses, relationships between the actors and backstage staff form, break and change, becoming very dysfunctional by Stockton.

Good farce is intricate, requiring high precision, but this even more so, and the pleasure you derive from the comedy is matched by the awe you have of the actors’ skills in pulling it off. The second act in particular is masterly, as it’s effectively two plays playing simultaneously, one a kind of dumb-show in front of you ‘backstage’ and another on the stage behind seen through the set window, Act One of Nothing On in front of the Ashton audience. When I wasn’t weeping with laughter, I was agape at the sheer hutzpah of it’s execution.

The class of 2019 are a match for those that went before, with Jonathan Cullen as Jonathan Fellowes playing Philip Brent and Daniel Rigby as Garry Lejeune playing Roger Tramplemain taking the brunt of the physical demands of Frayn’s play, though the other seven actors all shine too. Max Jones’ set makes an impressively short change between the interval-less backstage second act and the front-stage third. Jeremy Herrin’s staging is as slick at being unslick as you could wish for.

Though farce has gone out of fashion, Mischief Theatre, with their ‘goes wrong’ series, have proven that there’s still an audience for it if you make it clever and skilful. Frayn did that with this 37 years ago, and it’s still the pinnacle of the form, about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on! The previous three London productions all transferred to the West End, the first running five years and the second two years, both with multiple casts. It would be a brave person who bet against this following suit; it would be a particular tonic at the present time.

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Over 150 shows were candidates for my four award-less awards, with Best New Play the difficult category this year, so lets start with that.

BEST NEW PLAY – LOVE – National Theatre

Over a third of the sixty-five candidates were worthy of consideration, which makes 2016 both prolific and high quality in terms of new plays. Hampstead had a particularly good year with Rabbit Hole, Lawrence After Arabia, Labyrinth and the epic iHo all in contention. The Almeida gave us three, with Boy leading the trio that included They Drink It In The Congo and Oil because of its importance and impact. The Globe’s two Kneehigh shows – 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the main stage & The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – both delighted. Two more Florian Zeller plays, The Mother and The Truth, followed The Father and proved he’s a real talent to watch. The visit of Isango again, this time with play with songs A Man of Good Hope was a treat.

The Arcola gave us Kenny Morgan, which showed us the inspiration for Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the Donmar a fascinating One Night in Miami, the Orange Tree hosted the superbly written The Rolling Stone and Dante or Die’s site-specific Handle With Care had an epic sweep in its self storage unit setting. Two comedies shone above all others – James Graham’s Monster Raving Loony and Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, the only West End non-subsidised contender! The Royal Court provided the visceral Yen and The Children, my runner-up, another fine play by Lucy Kirkwood whose Chimerica was my 2013 winner. Of the National’s three, The Flick and Sunset at the Villa Thalia came earlier in the year, but it was LOVE at the end which made me sad and angry but blew me away with more emotional power than any other. Important theatre which I desperately hope many more people will see.

BEST REVIVAL / ADAPTATION of a play – The Young Vic’s YERMA & the National’s LES BLANCS

I’ve added ‘adaptation’ as a few steered a long way from their source, and Les Blancs could be considered a new play, but it’s just new to us.

Though I saw forty-four in this category, less than a quarter made the short-list. The best Shakespeare revival was undoubtedly A Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as Les Blancs, the National staged excellent revivals of The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus, the Donmar chipped in with the thoroughly entertaining comedy Welcome Home, Captain Fox and in Kingston The Rose revived Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, probably the best use ever of this difficult space. Beyond that I was struggling, except to choose between the two winners, which I found I couldn’t and shouldn’t do.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – GROUNDHOG DAY – Old Vic Theatre

Has a shortlist ever been so short? Only twenty contenders but only three in contention. The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse was great fun and the NYMT’s Brass visiting Hackney Empire hugely impressive, but it was achieving the seemingly impossible by turning Groundhog Day into a hugely successful musical than won the day, though it was sad to see it head stateside, presumably in pursuit of greater commercial gain, after such a short run. I know it will be back, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about a British theatrical institution and a whole load of British talent being used as a Broadway try-out. 

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – HALF A SIXPENCE – Chichester Festival Theatre / Novello Theatre

Fifty percent more revivals (twenty-nine) than new musicals is a lower proportion than usual, but a winner has never been clearer. 

The Menier gave us a transatlantic transfer of a great Into the Woods and what may prove to be the definitive She Loves Me, but both the Union and Walthamstow’s Rose & Crown provided twice as many quality revivals, with the latter successfully climbing higher peaks with more challenging shows for a small space – Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Out of This World, Babes in Arms and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance. The Union’s contributions included The Fix and Children of Eden and a trio of cheeky, fun nights with Bad Girls, Moby Dick and Soho Cinders. The Southerland-Tarento partnership provided a brilliant revival of Ragtime and the welcome European premiere, and superb production of, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (which was also too old for me to categorise as ‘New’). A little gem came and went ever so quickly when the Finborough revived Alan Price’s lovely Andy Capp in it’s Sun-Tue slot on the set of another play. BRING IT BACK! Despite all this fringe and off west end quality, it was the Chichester transfer of an old warhorse with a new book, new songs, thrilling staging, stunning choreography, gorgeous design and terrific ensemble which propelled itself to the top of this category.

That’s it for another year, then. Homelessness, childlessness, timelessness, colonialism and love amongst the working class. There’s a theme there somewhere…..

 

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Mischief Theatre continue their campaign for world domination of the genre of farce with this new comedy. I’m pleased they’ve decided to move on from the ‘goes wrong’ plays and I’m even more pleased at how successful this is. 

It’s set in Minneapolis in the late 50’s (I smell a Broadway transfer!). From a prison break-out through the planning of the robbery to its execution, it’s uproariously funny full-on farce. The eight founders / regulars have been supplemented by just one newbie and the experience and chemistry they have developed over the years shows. It’s even more physical and has even more stunts than previous shows. The addition of music contemporary to the setting, sung a cappella during scene changes (and occasionally within a scene) is a lovely bonus, and they sing well too. A joke on the elevation of an issue to higher levels is used twice to brilliant effect, as are those ‘circular’ jokes based on multiple mishearing’s and misunderstandings. 

They’ve raised their game in production values again. David Farley’s set makes great use of the relatively small Criterion stage with action above and around – and on the back wall! – and there are good period costumes by Roberto Surace. If George Martin was the fifth Beatle, then director Mark Bell must be the ninth member of Mischief, because his high energy, fast paced staging is crucial to the slickness of the show.

Though it’s still in preview it’s already in great shape and I predict another huge hit. What Mischief do so well is entertain everyone and offend no-one. You only had to look at the audience to realise they are from eight to eighty, Londoners and visitors from all over the place. The Mischief fairy-tale of success continues……

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Mischief Theatre gave us the funniest hour of 2013 with The Play That Went Wrong. In a bigger theatre with a bigger budget (but without bigger prices), they now have a revolve, flying capability and multiple settings. The higher production values (well, until the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society get their hands on them) increase the possibilities and increase the laughter count.

Prior to the performance, a road accident affected some of the lost boys which required some game soldiering on and some re-casting. Nine actors (and the stage manager) now play all roles. The more complex set allows even more things to go wrong and there are lots of hysterical moments as actors and set interact or the set acts on its own. Add in inappropriate entrances and exits, fluffed or forgotten lines and costume failures and you have some sublime comedy.

However much the set does, it is of course the performances that make it and the comic timing is outstanding; you’re constantly aware that we’re a split second from real disaster. Six Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society regulars are joined by two newbies, with the last show’s stage manager now promoted to actor and the lighting & sound man promoted to stage manager. The new lighting & sound operator is as much of a star and will no doubt be up for promotion soon.

It was great to see Mischief move from improv to the last show and its great to see it scale up so successfully. There may be fewer laughs per minute, but there are more laughs overall. It’s just about to finish, but it will surely return, and when it does you should be there. In the meantime, catch The Play Thar Went Wrong on tour.

Will I laugh more in 2014? Somehow, I doubt it.

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Little Bulb’s Orpheus at BAC – the most extraordinary cocktail of concert and storytelling

Paper Cinema’s Odyssey at BAC – more storytelling, with music and charming lo-tech projections

Mischief’s The Play That Went Wrong at Trafalgar Studios – more laughs in 60 minutes than any other show – ever

Cush Jumbo’s Josephine & I at the Bush – two biographies intertwined in a virtuoso performance

ONEOFUS’ Beauty & the Beast at the Young Vic – two biographies intertwined with a gothic fairytale

PIT’s The Universal Machine at the New Diorama – a timely play with music about Alan Turing

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I’d be surprised if you could find a funnier hour in a theatre as this. A welcome transfer for Mischief Theatre from the Old Red Lion in Islington to the West End’s Trafalgar Studio Two (thankfully, at prices not a lot higher), this is an absolute hoot.

We’re with an AmDram company mounting Murder at Haversham Hall. The farce includes technical glitches, fluffed lines, missing & incorrect props, collapsing scenery and the inept cover ups that each requires. When an actor is knocked out, she has to be removed from the stage with the minimun of fuss (!) and replaced by a nervous stage manager. At one point, we end up in a circular sequence as one actor repeats the same line and at another, an actor begins to visibly acknowledge the audience’s response to unintentional events. To get through it all, the company is required to improvise (somewhat appropriately for a company that made its name in improv). 

This is all played with such skill and superb comic timing by seven talented performers, a technician and a set that itself performs. Some of it is so physical, they must be covered in bruises, and I couldn’t believe that they were going to clean up and do it all again 30 mins later!

I haven’t laughed so much in ages and urge you to go.

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