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After brightening up the West End with not one but three hit comedies the folk at Mischief Theatre certainly know how to entertain an audience. Their Olivier Award-winning comedy The Play That Goes Wrong started from humble beginnings in a pub theatre before transferring to the Trafalgar Studios, enjoying a UK tour and an extended run at the Duchess Theatre in the West End where it is now booking into its fourth year.
As they broke new ground on television last Christmas when their second West End comedy Peter Pan Goes Wrong was shown on BBC, the news broke that the original cast would be making their Broadway debuts as The Play That Goes Wrong transferred to the Lyceum Theatre in New York, produced by J.J. Abrams. Having opened to excellent reviews and being described as a “gut-busting hit” by the New York Times and “comic gold” by Variety the Broadway production continues to build fantastic word of mouth and was recently nominated for The Drama League Award for Best Play. Competing in a packed season of hits the play recently won the Broadway.com Audience Choice Award for Best New Play.
Speaking at the awards ceremony event in the heart of New York City we sat down with the writers and creators of the play Henry Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer who are all recreating their original madcap roles on Broadway.
“It's been very positive actually” comments Henry Shields as I ask about the transition from London to the Great White Way. “We've been overwhelmed as to how supportive American audiences have been. They've really taken to the show and people are really enjoying it and telling their friends to see it.”
“We haven't really changed much” Henry Lewis replies, “most of the show is performed as it is in London. Over the course of the whole journey of the show lots has changed as it has been performed, but it hasn't changed much for Broadway audiences, just a few terms that aren't used in the USA and making sure that's clear”.
Having won a number of awards for the show already in London, including the Olivier Award the recognition for their work is something that all three are extremely grateful for. “It's wonderful when you get an award chosen by the people who have seen the show because they're the most important people” Jonathan comments. “It's fantastic that people have come to see the show and also taken the time to vote for it. That's really nice and very special, we feel really touched and privileged.”
As a show rooted firmly in farce and physical comedy I ask if the response from American audiences has been at all different to that which the group have previously seen around the UK and the West End.
“They are strangely different in a way that we weren't expecting” Shields replies. “They tend to be more respectful and positive in a way – they want the show to succeed. It's unhelpful for us! In the UK you get people shouting out and throwing things at us – Americans aren't used to that. They are starting to now, it's really nice. They laugh a lot more and are louder, they're more engaging. They let you get on with your thing and don't try and trip you up like the British audience do. I met a woman the other day who had seen it at the Trafalgar Studios back when it was a one act show, and she loved it again and seeing how it had changed.”
“Every day we lose a little bit more of their respect” Jonathan laughs. “I think word is spreading, they are interacting more and more. I think they're telling their friends to come to the show and that they can shout out and no one cares. Just do whatever you want!”
Opening in an extremely packed and competitive season The Play That Goes Wrong has been embraced by the wider Broadway community who have both rewarded and celebrated the show that's acts as a welcome light relief in an otherwise dramatic and serious season for new plays.
“There's a greater sense of community between the shows” Lewis explains. “There are lots of things happening, awards season is bigger, here there is all sorts of different awards. There's always lots of press to do and we're kept busy. It's really nice to meet all the different people from different shows.
“Particularly coming from another country, it's really nice and such a warm community that has made us feel so welcome” Jonathan confirms. “There are so many talented performers and so many talented shows as well as opportunities to celebrate each other's work. I think it's great.
As a theatre company Mischief remain somewhat unstoppable in their success with both The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About a Bank Robbery continuing to appeal to new audiences. Could a new West End or Broadway play be on the cards for the group in the coming year I ask?
“We are writing at the moment” Henry Lewis smiles. “We've just come from a writing session today. We're working on some new TV stuff which is yet to be announced so I can't say too much! It's very exciting and we're looking forward to it.”
The Play That Goes Wrong tickets are on sale in London to 25 February 2018