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Mischief Theatre proves three 'Wrongs' make a right

The British theatre company has been represented by a trio of shows in 2023 alone — The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and now Mind Mangler.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

It's Mischief Theatre's year. With three shows "going wrong" in New York in 2023 alone — earning night after night of raucous laughter — the British comedy troupe is clearly doing something right.

Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields formed Mischief as a grad school project at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art in 2008. From those humble beginnings — and the near-instant success of its breakout hit, The Play That Goes Wrong, in London in 2012 — came Mischief's global takeover. A 2017 Broadway transfer of the meta-comedy, starring all three co-creators and other founding troupe members as hapless amateur actors, marked Mischief's New York debut — and its first Tony Award win.

The Play That Goes Wrong ran on Broadway for just under two years, but the show is still enjoying the Off-Broadway run it launched mere months later. It's almost ironic, considering that Mischief's M.O. is, as Lewis put it, "comedic catastrophe."

So what's the secret to Mischief's continued success? It's simple: The founders are friends through wrongs, rights, and everything in between, making them equally eager collaborators.

"Their secret is probably patience with me," Sayer joked of Shields and Lewis. "No, the secret is a deep sense of respect. Henry [Lewis] was the best man at my wedding. We're in the rehearsal room all day, and then we all go for dinner. We find each other fun, and we find each other funny."

"We're just used to working together. Ideas flow," Lewis echoed. "None of us are hugely precious. We'll try things out; if they work, then great. If they don't work, we'll adjust them, or we'll try something new all together. And we're always happy with that."

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That's a starkly different dynamic than within the Cornley Drama Society, the fictional subjects of The Play That Goes Wrong. They can barely make it through their new play's opening night thanks to malfunctioning sets, missing props, unconscious actors, and pretty much every other problem you can think of.

In spring 2023, Cornley bravely returned to Broadway to give it another go, this time with J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. It goes exactly as well as you might expect in Peter Pan Goes Wrong. That show's run, also reuniting the Mischief founders on the New York stage, was strictly limited.

But as if Mischief read audiences' minds and knew they couldn't get enough, the troupe came back to New York once more with Mind Mangler, now off Broadway (in the same building as The Play That Goes Wrong) through March 3.

Mind Mangler isn't a "Goes Wrong" show in title, but it is in content: Lewis plays a hypnotist who isn't very good at his act, with Sayer as multiple "random" audience volunteers (read: the Mangler's roommate). But as The Play That Goes Wrong sets itself apart with a wholly original story, and Peter Pan Goes Wrong with nostalgia and failed fly rigs, Mind Mangler brings its own unique touch to the "Goes Wrong" formula: bonafide illusions.

"Some of the tricks go wrong, but there's a genuine magic," said Lewis. "Quite often, the trick is not the trick he set out to do, but something else happens."

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Mischief joins the tradition of British groups like Monty Python, whose musical Spamalot is currently enjoying its first Broadway revival, and the duo of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, who created the musical Six at Cambridge University before it became a worldwide phenomenon.

"More shows seem to be swapping between the West End and Broadway," Sayer agreed. "We actually went to this event at the U.N. of all places [...] that was about U.S. and U.K. cooperation and shows jumping across the pond."

Family-friendly, over-the-top comedy appeals universally, after all, and Mischief proves that — thrice over.

Get The Play That Goes Wrong tickets now.

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Get Mind Mangler tickets now.

Book Tickets CTA - LT/NYTG

Top image credit: Henry Lewis in Mind Mangler off Broadway. (Photo by Pamela Raith Photography)
In-line image credit: The original Broadway casts of The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong, including Lewis, Sayer, and Shields. (Photos by Jeremy Daniel)

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