Dave Hearn and Nancy Zamit: 'Groan Ups is an old school farce, and Mischief's wordiest play yet'

Groan Ups

Since Mischief Theatre first made their presence known in the West End with The Play That Goes Wrong, they've become one of the leading theatre companies in the country. With critically-acclaimed productions on both sides of the pond, as well as three Mischief Theatre productions running concurrently in the West End, it's fair to say this is Mischief Theatre's time to shine.

Ahead of the opening night of Groan Ups, we spoke to company members Nancy Zamit and Dave Hearn about their new shows in London, creating their trademark Mischief magic for television and settings they'd love to see 'go wrong'.

Groan Ups is at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Groan Ups tickets are available now. 


How does it feel to have the yearlong residency at the Vaudeville?

Nancy Zamit: We’re incredibly lucky! It’s really amazing that they have faith in us to deliver shows for a year. Nica Burns [producer of Nimax Theatres] has been so supportive coming into our dressing rooms and being a great support. We just feel really lucky. 

Dave Hearn: Last year was a quiet year for us, as we were doing a lot of research and development but now we’re making new shows. It really shows that all the people at the ‘top’ of the theatre industry have faith in what we do.

How long does it take to research and develop a Mischief Theatre show?

NZ: We’ll develop it and work with people to then go to the writers, rewriting and take it through the creative team who always have lots of input - Magic Goes Wrong had been in the works for two years.

DH: And we’re still preparing the third and final show! Groan Ups was a longer process than we’re used to as we had to ask more questions and delve deeper. We’re changing stuff with Groan Ups all the time – writing and evolving to make sure everything is how we want it to be. 

Groan Ups is a brand new story, can you explain the general concept of Groan Ups?


Nancy Zamit (middle) in Groan Ups

NZ: We see a group of characters aged six, 14 and then in their early 30s. It’s a mash-up of comedic styles that develop through the characters developing into adults, what happens and how your early life can affect your later life. It also looks at how decisions you made when you were younger can affect your past.

DH: The mash-up of different styles has made the humour in Groan Ups more considered; it’s a more sophisticated show.

How are you able to get into the mindset of a 6-year-old?

DH: I play a teacher role. But, when you're playing a child, the audience are more aware you're trying to parodise, so there's theatrical licence. The most challenging part is to dive into the mind of a teenager as they’re naturally awkward and don’t lend themselves well to being a comedic character.

NZ: I have a one-and-a-half-year-old son, so getting into the headspace of a young child is easily accessible. Children look at everything with face value and find the humour in everything!

How does the mash-up of comedic styles work?

NZ: In the first act when we’re children, we play on a style of comedy called Bouffon, it’s like a kind of clowning.

DH:  I think the bouffon element is the most extreme version of what we do, but child bouffon allows us to say things we usually wouldn’t be able to say. There is a little bit of old school farce but you can tell we really settle into our rhythms and what everyone is doing.

NZ: This is our most ‘wordy’ play yet, I’ve had to learn a part with lines like a normal actor rather than flying through windows or dancing like a fairy! 

In a couple of months time, Magic Goes Wrong comes to London, but it’s already been at the Lowry. What’s the process like then for balancing multiple Mischief Theatre shows at the same time?

NZ: It’s less confusing and more just very tiring! When we’re rehearsing Magic Goes Wrong, we’re still performing Groan Ups. It’ll be a stretch! 

How was working with Penn & Teller?

DH: Penn came to Manchester to work with us for the week. He's humble, knowledgeable and had brilliant ideas. There’s always discussion about whether it’s a magic show or comedy show, but Penn and Teller are open to us chopping and changing ideas. They’re great at saying when audiences should be laughing and when audiences should be saying ‘wow’. Teller has so many crazy stories too, so that’s really fun!

What can audiences expect with Magic Goes Wrong?

DH: It has the essence of a variety show. There’s some genuinely brilliant and genuinely awful tricks. We’re getting better at magic and we’re really excited to bring a new world of farce to the West End. The world of magic is ripe for parody.

NZ: There’s definitely dangerous elements, but we’re well prepared with different checks in place so nobody is in danger, but our aesthetic team ensures the show looks vibrant and colourful. 

With the new ‘Goes Wrong’ television series, did you find challenges with staging it for TV?


Dave Hearn (middle) in Groan Ups

DH: There were some challenges. We aimed to write the TV series like a short stage play as though you’d be able to film it in one take. 

NZ: We had our training with Peter Pan Goes Wrong and Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, so it’s like we’ve graduated into doing the series. The idea is that we’ve learned enough to adapt our style for screen. But, it can be different to get the rhythm of a farce when you’re shooting things out of sequence.  

DH: The camera guys loved the challenge as we were doing 12 to 15 pages in one take, and they’re used to just doing one page a take. 

The Play That Goes Wrong has been on Broadway, what were the reactions to British humour on Broadway?

NZ: It was different but it was amazing. It’s such an inherently British show that it had a charm that the Americans responded to with even more escapism. They really were fantastic and very surprising! The rhythms of the show are different because different cultures respond to different moments.

Are there any settings you’d love to see ‘go wrong’?

NZ: I’ve always wanted to play Ursula and do the Little Mermaid so much. I’m well up for a musical but I’ve got no idea! Wherever we wanna go wrong, I’ll be there.  

DH: There were talks of doing a zero-gravity one but then we thought how is that going to work?! I’d like to do a World War Two drama-style production. It’d be great to take a traditionally male environment and put in some great jokes. There’s always something funny about a woman in a moustache pretending to be a man!

Why should someone see a Mischief show?

DH: If you’ve ever been a child, teenager or an adult, you should see Groan Ups as there’s something for everyone. If you like magic, comedy or just wanna laugh, come and see Magic Goes Wrong.

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