Everything is right for The Play That Goes Wrong to go wronger for a bit longer on next week’s return to Grand Opera House

What could possibly go wrong? Cue the chaos, calamities, crises and catastrophes of Mischief’s The Play That Goes Wrong, returning to the Grand Opera House, York, from September 28. Picture: Robert Day

THE Play That Goes Wrong keeps getting it right, an Olivier Award winner from the Mischief makers that has chalked up productions across every continent, aside from being given the cold shoulder by Antarctica.

The West End’s longest-running comedy is spreading chaos and calamity across the Duchess Theatre for a seventh year and the fourth major British tour brings the show back to the Grand Opera House, York, from Tuesday after an earlier run there on tour number three in May 2018.

For those yet to encounter the thrills, spills and comedy mayhem of The Play That Goes Wrong, how would co-writer Jonathan Sayer sum it up? “It’s a comedy all about a drama university group who are putting on a play and everything that could possibly go wrong…goes wrong,” he says. “There’s a big cast, there’s lots of jokes and it pretty much does what it says on the tin.

“The three writers [artistic director Henry Lewis, company director Sayer and Henry Shields] have all worked in theatre and have experiences of things going awry in shows we’ve been in.

“Some of my favourite moments watching theatre have been where things have gone dreadfully wrong and the actors are forced to deal with the mistake and try to keep the show on track. 

“On top of that, a huge influence for us is Michael Green, who wrote The Art Of Coarse Acting and actually taught Henry Lewis at youth theatre. Then there’s a huge amount of physical comedy, which is definitely a nod to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.” 

Mischief began in 2008 as a group that specialised in improvised comedy in London and Edinburgh but now creates new comedy for theatre, such as Magic That Goes Wrong, on tour at Leeds Grand Theatre earlier this month, and for television, with the new six-part series of The Goes Wrong Show beginning on BBC One on September 27.

“We created the script for The Play That Goes Wrong when the three of us were living together in a pretty run-down flat in Gunnersbury,” says Jonathan. “We were all working in bars and call centres and restaurants, and in the evenings we’d come home and we’d write until the early hours.

“There’s a huge amount of physical comedy, which is definitely a nod to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton,” says The Play That Goes Wrong co-writer Jonathan Sayer. Picture: Robert Day

“The initial script took about a month to put together and we then workshopped the script with the rest of the Mischief team. Everyone’s done a lot of improv, so we try and take those principles into the writing room and into rehearsal where, if someone has an idea, you accept it and you build on it.”

From playing to 60 people in pub theatres, Mischief have gone on to take productions to 35 countries, none more successfully than The Play That Goes Wrong.

Back for a second tour of bumps and bruises is Huddersfield actor Gabriel Paul, last seen in York in 2018 playing Trevor, the sound engineer pressed into an emergency role on stage.

“There’s just me from the 2018 tour among the 2021 principals, but all eight of us have been in the principal cast on a previous tour, so we’re like the Avengers being reassembled as they needed people to do it who were already familiar with the challenges involved, all up to speed, because of the Covid situation,” he says.

“It was my agent who first put me up for an audition in November 2017 – when I was really embarrassed because I didn’t know anything about the show at all! – and that process involved a lot of improvisation because the director and writers had devised the show around a lot of improvising.

“Initially I auditioned on my own but I ended up doing five auditions, going down to London from Huddersfield each time. They don’t mess about! They really put you through your paces as they want to see how you work with other actors.”

Teamwork is vital, as Gabriel has found on tour in 2018 and 2021 and in the West End in 2019. “One hundred per cent that’s the case. There’s a certain skill in trying to make things look bad or that they’re going wrong, and you have to really be in tune with your fellow actors because otherwise you could get hurt if things go even more wrong than the title would suggest!” he says.

“Being a physical show, it’s not just the stunts we do, but there are strains you can get, so we do group physiotherapy sessions with Carl Heaton, a sports physiotherapist from Manchester, once a month.”

The fourth tour should have run from December 2020 to April 2021 but after the opening day’s two shows, Lockdown 3 put paid to those dates. Instead, Gabriel and co have been on the road since July 13, relishing a return to playing to audiences.

Gabriel Paul reprising his role as sound engineer Trevor in The Play That Goes Wrong, now “going wronger for a little bit longer”. Picture: Robert Day

“We have a saying, because there are 12 characters, we always say the 13th character is Nigel Hook’s award-winning set, but the 14th character is the audience because we do encourage them to participate and even to call out sometimes,” he says.

“It’s the audience’s reaction that I most enjoy about this show; being in a room where you hear people crying with laughter. Hearing that joy all around the country is wonderful.

“I’ve done plays with heavy subject matters  and they’re important to do, but it’s great to hear laughter again after the 18 months we’ve had.”

Comedy or tragedy, serious or light, Gabriel has enjoyed myriad stage roles, whether in Northern Broadsides’ Quality Street, The Queen Of Chapeltown at Leeds Playhouse, Bouncers for Esk Valley Theatre or Othello for Demi-paradise Productions.

“I wish I was in that position of being able to choose roles, but that’s not the reality, but I’ve had the chance to work with fantastic people in fantastic shows,” he says. “I like to do something funny or something conversational, like Everything I Own, the Daniel Ward play I did when Hull Truck Theatre reopened in June with a trio of monologues.

“It was about Errol, a man of Jamaican descent, who grew up in Hull and has just lost his father to Covid. He’s organising his father’s house, and it’s a play with universal themes about loss and grief, fathers and sons, family stories and a love of music.”

Now, “having hoped he had done enough never be asked back, Gabriel is contractually obliged to say he’s extremely honoured to be reprising the role of Trevor and getting the chance to go wronger for a little bit longer”, or so his The Play That Goes Wrong biog jokingly says.

The truth is, half way through a tour that runs until the end of November, Gabriel is loving every minute of being in the Wrong place at the right time again.

Mischief present The Play That Goes Wrong, Grand Opera House, York, September 28 to October 3, 7.30pm and 2.30pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

Copyright of The Press, York

Gabriel Paul playing Errol in Daniel Ward’s monologue Everything I Own at Hull Truck Theatre this summer

Best Picture Oscar winner Nomadland tops film season at Stephen Joseph Theatre

Best Actress Oscar winner Frances McDormand in Best Picture winner Nomadland. Picture: Searchlight Pictures/20th Century Studios

THE cinema at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre reopens next month with a fortnight of Oscar-nominated films.

Films will be screened in the McCarthy auditorium from Tuesday, May 25, starting with Stanley Kramer’s comedy classic It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, nominated for six Oscars in 1963, followed by 2021 nominees Mank, Nomadland, Wolfwalkers and The Trial Of The Chicago 7.

SJT film programmer Steve Carley says of the first film choice: “When it was re-issued in the 1970s, the publicity said, ‘If ever this mad, mad, mad, mad world needed It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, it’s now!’.

“That seemed particularly appropriate at the moment. I’m hoping this joyous comedy will be the perfect ‘welcome-back’ film.”

“The perfect ‘welcome-back’ film”: It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

In Kramer’s film, an unconnected group of motorists stops to help a driver after a crash, only to discover he is a recently released convict who knows the whereabouts of a stolen $350,000, sparking a madcap car chase to recover the cash.

The all-star cast includes Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Terry-Thomas and…Buster Keaton. From half a dozen Oscar nominations, the only win, alas, was for Best Sound Editing. What a mad, mad world indeed, as you can re-discover on May 25 at 2pm and 7pm.

David Fincher’s Mank, the most nominated film at this year’s Academy Awards, will be shown on May 26 at 7pm; May 27 at 2pm and 7pm and May 28 at 2pm.

Best Actor nominee Gary Oldman plays the title role in this black-and-white biopic about screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz and the development of his most famous script, Citizen Kane.

Best Actor Oscar nominee Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz and James McShane as Shelly Metcalf in Mank

From ten nominations, not least for Best Picture and Best Director, Mank won two Oscars: Erik Messerschmidt for Best Cinematography and Donald Graham Burt for Best Production Design.

Nomadland, the big prize winner as Best Picture at the 93rd Academy Awards last Sunday at Union Station, Los Angeles, is booked in for May 28 at 7pm, May 29 at 2pm and 7pm and June 1 and 2 at 7pm.

Chinese-born director Chloe Zhao won the Best Director gong, also being nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Film Editing.

Third-time Best Actress winner Frances McDormand plays Fern, who embarks on a new life as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad after losing both her job and her husband.  

Wolfwalkers: Tomm Moore’s final film in his Irish folklore trilogy

Best Animated Feature Film nominee Wolfwalkers has screenings on June 1 and 2 at 2pm and June 3 at 2pm and 7pm.

The third and final film in director Tomm Moore’s fantasy-adventure Irish folklore trilogy, after The Secret Of Kells and Song Of The Sea, it features the voices of Honor Kneafsey, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Tommy Tiernan.

Nominated without ultimate success for five Oscars, topped off by Best Picture, Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial Of The Chicago 7, will be shown on June 4 and 5 at 2pm and 7pm.

Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Sacha Baron Cohen, front right, as Abbey Hoffman in The Trial Of The Chicago 7

Eddie Redmayne and Best Supporting Actor nominee Sacha Baron Cohen play political activists Tom Hayden and Abbie Hoffman in Sorkin’s dramatization of the real-life 1968 trial of a group of anti-Vietnam War protestors. 

Where possible, the SJT is recommending customers should book online at sjt.uk.com. The box-office phone line is open Mondays to Saturdays, 12 noon to 2pm on 01723 370541.

The box office will re-open for in-person bookings from Monday, May 17; noon to 5pm on non-show days; noon to 7.30pm on days with an evening show; 11am to 7.30pm on matinee days.

Pianist Kieran White to “break the silents” at Helmsley Arts Centre screening of Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr

Buster Keaton, right, in Steamboat Bill, Jr

YORK composer, pianist, busker, tutor and Buster Keaton aficionado Kieran White will be Breaking The Silents at Helmsley Arts Centre on February 1.

Accompanied by White’s expressive, playful, gag-driven piano score, the Stoneface silent classic Steamboat Bill, Jr, will be shown at 7.30pm “as it was originally intended to be seen in an authentic re-creation of the early cinema experience in the picture houses of the 1920s”.

Let Kieran make his case for why someone would want to see a black-and white, silent 1928 Buster Keaton film in 2020, the age of endless reheated Disney classics and myriad Marvel movies.

“We live in an instant world. A world governed by consumerism and technology. What we want, we can get just by clicking a mouse. We have forgotten how to slow down. How to breathe,” he says.

“But Buster takes us back to a time when time itself was a different thing entirely. A time when moments were savoured, rather than squandered.”

York pianist Kieran White

From past experience of his Breaking The Silents shows, White anticipates a largely middle-aged and older audience, but he believes Keaton’s comedic elan should appeal to “anyone with a love of history, a nostalgia for days of yore and an unfettered imagination”.

“Breaking The Silents offers a wonderful evening for all the family,” he says. “A lot of belly laughs. An appreciation of Buster’s incredible athleticism and craftmanship but, most of all, a reawakening of that state of wonderment that children have but never know they have.”

The relentless pace of Keaton’s comedy on screen leaves no gap, no rest, no breath, in White’s score, but still he finds room for quickfire references to the Steptoe And Son theme music, Porridge and The Barber Of Seville.

“The joy of Steamboat Bill, Jr is the raw energy,” says Kieran. “You know that if the stunts went wrong then would be no take two.”

White’s piano has accompanied screenings of Keaton’s 1927 film The General at locations as diverse as Helmsley Arts Centre, the Yorkshire Museum of Farming at Murton Park and City Screen, Fairfax House and the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in York.

Last September, he presented a Breaking The Silents double bill of The General in the afternoon and Steamboat Bill, Jr in the evening at the JoRo. White’s labours of love had necessitated 11 days of writing for The General, a little longer for Steamboat Bill, Jr, drawing on his love of both Keaton’s comic craft and the piano.

Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill, Jr’s never-to-be-forgotten stunt scene

“I was very inspired by my grandfather,” he says, explaining why piano was his instrument of choice. “He was a superb pianist and made the most complex music sound effortless.

“Ever since a very early age, I’ve been fascinated by puzzles too, particularly chess. Watching Pop play was like sitting inside a gigantic engine, seeing gears mesh, listening to the sound of tiny hammers. Music chose me!”

Where next might Breaking The Silents venture? “I think what I do is unique. Ultimately, I’d love to perform all over the world,” says Kieran.

In the meantime, here is a recommendation from York filmmaker Mark Herman, director of Brassed Off and Little Voice, to head to Helmsley Arts Centre on February 1 for the Keaton and White double act.

“Kieran White’s score and his live accompaniment raises an already almost perfect film to fresh heights,” he said after seeing The General. “It’s a shame that Buster Keaton never knew that his flawless performance could actually be enhanced.”

The next film to receive the White piano touch will be Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger. “It’s another silent but not laugh dependent!” says Kieran. Watch this space for updates on its progress to a screen near you.

Tickets cost £12, under 18s £6, on 01439 771700 or at helmsleyarts.co.uk.