Strictly champion Ellie Leach turns Scarlett for theatre debut in comedy whodunit Cluedo 2 at York Theatre Royal

Ellie Leach, front right, as interior designer Annabel Scarlett with fellow cast members Hannah Boyce, Jack Bennett, Edward Howells and Jason Durr in Cluedo 2, on tour at York Theatre Royal fromTuesday to Saturday. Picture: Alastair Muir

WHAT did 2023 Strictly Come Dancing champion Ellie Leach do next?

The answer: Make her stage acting debut as Miss Scarlett in the world-premiere British tour of the comedy whodunit Cluedo 2, marking the 75th anniversary of the Hasbro boardgame.

Next stop, York Theatre Royal, from March 12 to 16, a run that will coincide with Manchester-born Ellie’s 23rd birthday next Friday.

She replaced Helen Flanagan in the five-month tour after her fellow former Coronation Street star was advised to withdraw for medical reasons. “It all happened very quickly,” says Ellie. “I went into rehearsals while I was doing the last week of the Strictly tour. They were already in their second week when I joined.

“It was very hectic, but as soon as I arrived, everyone made me feel so welcome. I’ve been having lots of fun!”

She jumped at the chance to take to the stage in her first role since playing Faye Windass in the ITV soap from 2011 and 2023.

Scarlett fervour: After Coronation Street and Strictly Come Dancing, Ellie Leach is enjoying the new challenge of her stage theatre debut in Cluedo 2. Picture: Alastair Muir

“Cluedo is such an iconic board game, isn’t it. Everyone enjoys playing it,” says Ellie. “I read the script and I loved it. The writers have an amazing track record.”

Those writers are the BAFTA Award-winning stage and screen-writing duo Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, of Birds Of A Feather, Goodnight Sweetheart and Dreamboats And Petticoats fame no less. Then add a director with comedy clout too: Mark Bell, who directed Mischief Theatre’s alarmingly funny catastrophic capers in The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery. “The team behind this show is incredible,” says Ellie. “Who wouldn’t want to work on it?!  I feel very lucky to be part of the show’s journey.”

Cluedo 2 – The Next Chapter, the follow-up to the play based on Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 film Clue, is an original comedy whodunit, set in the Swinging Sixties. Cue new house, new bodies, new suspects, in a tale of murder, mystery and secret passageways.

What happens?  Fading rock’n’roll legend Rick Black (Liam Horrigan) is broke, desperate for cash to run his expensive new home, Graveny Manor, and prepared to do anything to regain his fame and fortune.

Excited to reveal his long-awaited comeback album, Black has assembled his supermodel wife, the Honourable Emerald Peacock (Hannah Boyce); his manager, Colonel Eugene Mustard (Jason Durr, from Heartbeat and Casualty); long-time roadie “Professor” Alex Plum (Edward Howells), trusted interior designer Annabel Scarlett (Leach) and housekeeper Mrs White (Dawn Buckland), who came with house and who knows all its secrets.

However, someone is missing: Black’s former song-writing partner “The Reverend” Hal Green (Gabriel Paul), who disappeared mysteriously at the same time that Black’s career went downhill. What’s more, where did that butler, Wadsworth (Jack Bennett) come from?

First meeting: Jason Durr’s Colonel Eugene Mustard introduces himself to Ellie Leach’s Annabel Scarlett in the comedy whodunit Cluedo 2. Picture: Alastair Muir

As the bodies start to pile up, the ever-colourful characters move from room to room trying to escape the murderer and survive the night, while PC Silver (Tiwai Muza) and audience alike look for the clues to unravel the secrets, seeking to work out whodunit, with what, and where!  

“What’s really fun is playing a character that’s evolved from a board game,” says Ellie. “You can do a lot with it, and there’s so much that’s different about Miss Scarlett from the first play.

“Every Cluedo character is iconic but you can put your own stamp on it; there’s lots of layers to each one and it’s been interesting to delve into them: how they are when they’re together; how they are when they’re on their own.”

Miss Scarlett by name, but is she scarlet by nature? “People may have that perception of her, but she has more to her than that,” says Ellie, as the company continues rehearsals under Bell after opening the tour in Richmond, Surrey, on February 29. “There’s hints of scarlet, but other things too!”

Ellie is “so excited to join the cast of Cluedo 2 after an incredible year”, the year when she waltzed her way to winning Strictly Come Dancing with Italian dancer Vito Coppola last December. “It was an absolute dream come true to take part but for us to lift the Glitterball Trophy with Vito was something I will cherish for the rest of my life,” she says. “I treasure that feeling of joy at the public voting for us each week.”

Cluedo 2 runs at York Theatre Royal, March 12 to 16, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or

In the red: Ellie Leach’s Miss Scarlett looks alarmed in Cluedo 2. Picture: Dave Hogan

REVIEW: Mischief’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Leeds Grand Theatre, until Sat, ***1/2 stars to the right and straight on till morning

Gripping moment in Mischief’s Pan-tomime : Gareth Tempest as Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s Jonathan Harris in the role of Peter Pan in Mischief’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong. All pictures: Pamela Raith

MISCHIEF, those cavorting catalysts of chaotic comedy through catastrophic collisions, return to Leeds Grand Theatre this week in the immediate aftermath of the riotous pantomime season. Cue the breathless pantomimic piratical pratfalls of Peter Pan Goes Wrong.

“Not a pantomime. A traditional vignette,” corrects Jack Michael Stacey’s Chris Bean, po-faced president of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and director of Peter Pan.

If you haven’t caught the dizzying merry mayhem of The Play That Goes Wrong, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery or Magic Goes Wrong on their York visits, these Mischief makers with improv roots are schooled in the calamitous comedy of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off and Alan Ayckbourn’s A Chorus Of Disapproval and the theatrical in-jokes and home truths of Michael Green’s The Art Of Coarse Acting books.

Directorial tussle: Jack Michael Stacey’s Chris Bean and Matthew Howell’s Robert Grove in Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Add the crazed slapstick of Rik Mayall & Ade Edmondson’s Bottom, the physical grace of Buster Keaton’s films and the anarchic spirit of Monty Python, and you have a comedy compound that can’t go wrong, despite the show titles.

Metatheatre, you might call it: not so much breaking down theatre’s fourth wall as treating it as an obstacle course to be negotiated. Or the wall being smashed and rebuilt time after time. Or Sisyphus forever rolling an ever-bigger boulder up theatre’s steepest hill.

The audience is in on the joke from the moment of arrival: cast members and technicians have the frantic demeanour of Basil Fawlty as they struggle to set up the stage, the lighting fizzing and malfunctioning, but all the while they must try to maintain an air of calm.

Theo Toksvig-Stewart, left, Ciara Morris and Clark Devlin as the Darling children with Matthew Howell as Nana the dog

In keeping with The Play That Goes Wrong, the structure is a play within a play, or more precisely a play struggling to reach the finishing line with all the problems and crises that threaten to derail it. Ostensibly we are watching Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s hapless amateurs performing Peter Pan, but en route, their personal back stories, egos, insecurities, neuroses, backstage dalliances and artistic incompetence keep feeding into the performance.

Director Bean (casting himself as George Darling/Captain Hook) has to deal with the rampant ego of co-director – no, assistant director, insists Bean – of Matthew Howell’s Robert Grove (who goes on to bring the house down as Nana the Dog, Peter’s Shadow and especially as an exasperated Starkey, going from being incomprehensible to making himself understood by all but Devlin’s dimwitted Mr Smee.

Rosemarie Akwafo’s Lucy Grove suffers from chronic stage fright; Theo Toksvig-Stewart’s production-funding Max Bennett has an unrequited crush on Ciara Morris’s Sandra Wilkinson (playing Wendy); Clark Devlin’s Dennis Tyde has to be fed every line through a headset (in one of the best running gags in Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields’ script).

Jean-Luc Worrell as Francis Beaumont, the Narrator in Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s Peter Pan

Jake Burgum’s over-worked stage manager, Trevor Watson, is as crucial to the physical comedy as Gareth Tempest’s Jonathan Harris, playing the scenery-endangering Peter Pan. Jamie Birkett’s Annie Twilloil is kept busy in four roles, whether swapping costumes at frantic pace when switching between Mary Darling and maid Lisa, or risking being electrocuted whenever Tinkerbell’s costume lights up, or popping up as Curly in a whirl.

Mischief’s comedy is as much about deconstruction as gradually dismantling Simon Scullion’s revolving stage, scene by scene, as props and furniture alike put cast members at physical risk, not least Jean-Luke Worrell’s Francis Beaumont, the narrator in rising fear of being nobbled by his seat as it speeds on stage.

Worrell, wide eyed and wider mouthed, is one of the great joys of this show, whether sprinkling glitter or fumbling for props with an hyena’s cackle in the piratical guise of Cecco.

Jack Michael Stacey, in the guise of Chris Bean, playing Captain Hook

In the spirit of theatre, the show must go on, no matter what goes wrong, and the more it goes wrong, the more the comedy goes right under Adam Meggido’s direction, slick on the one hand, slapstick on the other.

There is a risk of diminishing returns with Mischief’s template, even with the extra ingredient of sending up pantomime tropes and “He’s behind you” audience participation. In truth, Peter Pan Goes Wrong has to work harder than The Play That Goes Wrong and especially the gravity-defying, eye-deceiving The Comedy About A Bank Robbery to hit the comedy peaks.

Familiarity with the formula undermines the chance of surprise, but manic humour still abounds in this awfully big misadventure.

Trapped in a flap: Matthew Howell’s scene-stealing Nana the Dog

REVIEW: Original Theatre’s The Time Machine, York Theatre Royal, ends today ***

Be prepared to be amazed by time travel: Dave Hearn, left, and a shocked Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle in Original Theatre’s The Time Machine. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Original Theatre in The Time Machine, York Theatre Royal, today at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or

SORRY, there isn’t much time left. Either for CharlesHutchPress to write this review after a truly madly deeply busy week spent in the darkness of theatres and gig venues. Or for you to read it or see The Time Machine before it leaves town forever.

Oh, for a time machine to have made time e    x    p    a     n    d.  Anyway, no time to delay. This is “father of science fiction” H G Wells’s The Time Machine. Or rather it is and it isn’t.

It is based loosely – clinging by its finger nails, more like – on Wells’s 1895 debut full-length sci-fi novel, the one where the Time Traveller invents a device for travelling through time on a journey to the year 802,701.

Herbert George Wells, by the way, used his time well, so well that he wrote more than 50 novels and dozens of short stories, while his non-fiction output took in works of social commentary, politics, history, science, satire, biography and autobiography.

Ah, but he didn’t write The Time Machine, A Comedy, instead the madcap work of Steven Canny, once associate director of Complicite, and John Nicholson, artistic director of Peepolykus, fellow specialists in absurdist, absurdly funny comedies.

In a compressed nutshell, three actors run a theatre company that’s trying to put on a production of The Time Machine, but with fairly limited success. “Limited” in the sense that Hearn, Amy Revelle and Michael Dylan keep veering wildly  from Wells’s intention to travel to the end of the Earth’s life to reflect on our own.

A big event happens that causes the play to spiral out of control as Hearn’s character, also called Dave, discovers actual time travel. Spoiler alert.

Everything stops for tea but not for long for Amy Revelle and Dave Hearn in The Time Machine. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Like in Hearn’s exploits for Mischief Theatre for the past decade, comedy rules all in the desire to get to the end, no matter what mishaps, detours, distractions befall the performance, within the structure of a play within a play, where the actors’ own world permeates the text.

In this case, Hearn is playing Dave Wells, HG’s assertive, egotistical great-great grandson, who wants to tell HG’s sci-fi tale, and is in such a hurry to do so, he is wearing tracksuit trousers and trainers.

But then so too are Amy, the “sensible” one who just wants to sing Cher songs at every opportunity, and Irishman Michael, a lovable science geek who’s having something of a meltdown day. Science fiction meets science friction as they are always on the cusp of falling out.

A door (vital to all farces), a chaise longue, dapper Victorian costumes, a theatrical knife prop, sounds off stage and repetition, repetition, repetition, all add to the fun and games.

“This is a show that laughs in the face of despair and insists on shining light in gloomy times,” says director Orla O’Laughlin (who even has a ‘laugh’ in her surname).

It does do exactly that, while also finding room for audience participation (on and off stage), show tunes, a mischievous nod to Derren Brown, explorations of the fourth dimension, and the “science bit” as Hearn turns into a boffin lecturer. Heck, sometimes, even HG’s story strives to get back on track amid the madness and the mayhem, as all’s Wells that ends well.

This is ‘metatheatre’, to use a pretentious word, but it is often ‘megatheatre’ too, judging by the excited reaction of the matinee school party in the dress circle.

Time and space is running out. What are you waiting for? Why are you still reading this? There’s no time like the present to see The Time Machine. Now.

All’s Wells that ends well for Mischief maker Dave Hearn in The Time Machine travels

Having the time of his life: Dave Hearn, centre, in The Time Machine, with comedy compadres Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle. All pictures: Manuel Harlan

DAVE Hearn, co-founder of those clever clowns in calamitous theatre Mischief Theatre, is spending time away from his comedic cohorts to go travelling through the country in The Time Machine.

From March 14 to 18, his time travels will bring him to York Theatre Royal in Peepolykus duo John Nicholson and Steven Canny’s re-visit of H G Wells’s epic sci-fi story for Original Theatre.

“It’s a play about three actors who run a theatre company and are trying to put on a production of The Time Machine, with fairly limited success,” says Hearn of this “comic version like no other you’ve seen” as Wells’s storyline travels to the end of the earth’s life to reflect on our own.

“But then a big event happens that causes the play to spiral out of control and my character [Dave] discovers actual time travel.”

Doorway to time travel: Dave Hearn on tour in The Time Machine

Billed as an “out of this world, fast paced, wise-cracking comedy where science fiction and science fact collide and extraordinary, mind-boggling things can happen”, how does Orla O’Laughlin’s production contrast with such Mischief-making capers as The Play That Goes Wrong, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery and Magic Goes Wrong.

“In some ways it’s similar, though I’d say it’s less reliant on big set pieces and more focused on the relationships between the characters. And I think it’s possibly more intellectually challenging, in the nicest way! The writers have done a brilliant job.”

Hearn is not an H G Wells aficionado, but he is a science fiction fan in general. “I read the entire Dune trilogy, which took me the best part of my life, but it’s mind-blowing stuff,” he says. “I think the play does a great job of making Wells’s story accessible, even to those without knowledge of the source material.”

Hearn is playing Dave, H G Wells’s great-great-grandson, in Nicholson and Canny’s version. “He’s very excited to be presenting a production of The Time Machine. He’s quite assured of his own writing gifts, and really wants to prove himself in this regard, even when it’s not completely appropriate. I quite respect him for that in many ways.”

Making his point: Dave Hearn shocks Michael Dylan and Amy Revelle in The Time Machine

Should you be wondering, Dave was not named after him. “I originally auditioned for one of the other parts. I remember reading it and thinking I did an OK job, but felt intuitively that I’d be a better Dave,” Hearn says. “Eventually they asked me to read for Dave, and then everything made a lot more sense.”

Hearn began performing in his schooldays. “I did GCSE drama because – believe it or not – I was a very shy young man, and decided doing drama might help boost my confidence. I got an A* and then, after a spell doing odd jobs, decided to go to Harlow College and do a BTEC in performing arts,” he recalls.

“I always really enjoyed it, though I think I was quite arrogant as well. I genuinely thought I was a great actor, and I remember talking to my mum about going to drama school like it was completely my choice.”

To enable him to do the drama foundation course at LAMDA, his parents sold their house and car. “I don’t think I realised at the time just what a show of faith that was. They were so supportive,” he says.

Everything stops for tea: Amy Revelle and Dave Hearn take a breather in The Time Machine

LAMDA (the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) was to be the meeting place for the Mischief makers, Henry Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer, and regular performer Hearn, who hit the jackpot with The Play That Goes Wrong.

“That was around five or six years after we formed Mischief [in 2008]. We didn’t pay ourselves during that period, we just kept making sure we had enough to do Edinburgh every year. Then around 2012 we decided we would write a Christmas show, The Murder Before Christmas at the Old Red Lion,” he says.

“We performed it at 9.30pm each night and had to store the set on the roof under a tarpaulin, because there was no space. It was woefully unsafe, but we kept going and after we finished the run the artistic director asked us to come back a few weeks later because another show had cancelled. That show became The Play That Goes Wrong.”

On his shoulder: Dave Hearn, behind Michael Dylan, every step of the way in this scene from The Time Machine

Hearn went on to enjoy a decade of success with Mischief and foresees a return to the fold, but he was ready to spread his wings. “It felt like a big decision for me not to go to Broadway with Peter Pan Goes Wrong. There were some personal reasons for that, but I’d wanted for a while to step away from Mischief,” he reveals.

“I could feel the beginnings of resentment creeping in, because I felt like I had to be loyal to the company. Nobody put that on me, that was all from me, but it felt right to step away. I’m enjoying being in a room with other people again. With Mischief the work is always very collaborative, but it’s actually quite nice just being told where to stand.”

One last question: if Hearn had a real time machine, where would he travel? “I’d love to go to the future, and see what cool gadgets they have,” he says. “Maybe I could go to the year 3,000, and see if Busted were right.”

Original Theatre’s The Time Machine travels to York Theatre Royal from March 14 to 18, 7.30pm plus 2pm Thursday and 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or Warning: May contain show tunes.

Copyright of The Press, York

Dave Hearn in the role of Dave, H G Wells’s great-great-grandson in Original Theatre’s The Time Machine

REVIEW: York Settlement Community Players in The 39 Steps, running until…fate intervened ****

Chemistry: Sanna Buck’s femme fatale and Aran MacRae’s Richard Hannay in Settlement Players’ The 39 Steps. Picture: John Saunders

John Buchan, Alfred Hitchcock, Simon Corble, Nobby Dimon and Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps, York Settlement Community Players, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, no longer dashing about with pencil-slim moustache panache until Sunday afternoon, alas, after cast illness.

DRINK in hand, it was time to sit back in the John Cooper Studio’s cabaret-style seating, relax and let the suspenseful comic drama begin.

Glass empty, (product-placed York Gin) bottle likewise, Aran MacRae’s Lieutenant Richard Hannay is slumped in his dull, lonely, newly rented Portland Place flat. He’s a man in an emotional pickle, on the edge, on the ledge, “tired of the world and tired of life” as the problems pile up. Suicidal, even, and in need of love as it later turns out.

So far, so sombre. What the dashing but hopes-dashed Hannay needs is “something pointless and trivial” to shake him out of his torpor. “I know,” he says. “Go to the theatre.” Boom, there goes the first big laugh, an insider knowing joke told against theatre, delivered with perfect comic timing, and so Harri Marshall’s production immediately hits its stride.

Writer Patrick Barlow: Fast-moving, snappily-clever, needs-must version of The 39 Steps

This is Patrick Barlow’s fast-moving, snappily clever version of The 39 Steps, the one he scripted for the West Yorkshire Playhouse and later West End and international success from an original Yorkshire-founded concept by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon.

In a nutshell, Marshall’s cast is charged with hitching John Buchan’s story of murder, suspense and intrigue to the thrills, spills and daring deeds of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film in a deranged marriage of comedy, farce, misadventure, mystery and thriller.

In Barlow’s National Theatre of Brent days, he would have his mock two-man theatre troupe, Desmond and Raymond, re-enact the Light Brigade and the Zulu Wars in a send-up of short-handed theatre companies.

Past productions of The 39 Steps divided its 135 characters between a cast of four, one man for Hannay, a woman for three women, and two men or a man and a woman (as in Rowntree Players’ 2015 production at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre), nominally called Man 1 and Man 2, for the rest.

Aran MacRae’s “tired of the world and tired of life” Richard Hannay. Picture: John Saunders

Marshall marshals rather more forces, calling on six men in black, Daniel Boyle, Andrew Isherwood, Matthew Lomax, Jim Paterson, Matt Pattison and Stephen Wright, to take on Barlow’s trademark needs-must, bargain-basement theatre style as The Clowns.

This demands that they must improvise props on the hoof amid the dearth of resources, wear multiple hats metaphorically and sometimes physically in leaping from role to role, and somehow ensure the smooth delivery of a performance, (hoping the audience won’t notice the absence of an errant stage manager, but Barlow/Marshall knowing they will).

From Lip Service to Mischief’s The Play That Goes Wrong, this is a slick, precise, unflappable  comic device that has borne the ripest fruit, and here Marshall’s misrule of six brings a new dimension to both the madcap comedy capers and to the underlying darkness.

Barlow’s play often draws comparison with the anarchic spirit and teamwork of Monty Python; now, after Marshall’s innovation, the absurdist League of Gentlemen come to mind too. Daniel Boyle’s voice and looning eyes remind you of late Python Terry Jones; Matthew Lomax’s female characterisations echo the Gents.  

Unforgettable: Daniel Boyle as Mr Memory in The 39 Steps. Picture: John Saunders

All the while, there is a story to tell, driven by narrator Hannay, MacRae’s upright Hannay playing it absolutely rod-straight, whatever hurdle is thrown his way from Hitchcock’s thriller and other Hitchcock works besides, as he ends up as murder suspect number one when a mysterious German woman with a gun, Annabelle Schmidt (Sanna Buck), dies in his arms after insisting on leaving the London Palladium by his side, desperate to impart important information.

On his tail as he heads to Scotland by train are policemen, secret agents and assorted women, and Marshall’s forces pull off Barlow’s obstacle course with elan, whether faced by re-enacting Hitchcock’s chase on the Flying Scotsman, the escape from the Forth Bridge, the first ever theatrical bi-plane crash [reprised from 1959’s North By Northwest] or a death-defying finale. Every Hitch homage defiantly goes off without a hitch.

Particularly strong is the chemistry between MacRae and Buck, a Swedish-born stage and film actor performing in York for the first time. MacRae, a professional with West End credits, now back in his home city, wholly lives up to Marshall’s billing that he would “balance brilliant playfulness against being earnest when required”, while Buck is to the Thirties’ manner born in her trio of roles as mystery German woman Annabelle, an alluring English femme fatale and a shy but helpful Scottish farmer’s wife. What a debut!

Caught on the hop: Harri Marshall’s company breaks into a dance step in The 39 Steps. Picture: John Saunders

Praise too for Helen Taylor’s wardrobe, especially for MaCrae and Buck, and Richard Hampton and Graham Sanderson’s set and lighting designs.

What rotten luck that, after the supremely assured first night, cast illness should rob the company and audiences alike of further performances of such verbal vim, satirical brio, dextrous stage craft, inventive surprise and even a sudden outbreak of dancing, as taught in rehearsal to the ever-game cast by York Lindy Hop.

No matter how frustrating the sudden curtailment must feel to Harri and her cast, Settlement Players’ first live show since March 2020 has been totally worthwhile, reminding us of MacRae’s considerable talent, first shown in youth theatre days, introducing York to Buck and bringing together a pool of performers it would be good to see working together again.

Director Harri Marshall: Heavy heart at having to call off the remaining performances

York Settlement Community Players’ statement on Friday:

“We are very sorry to announce that, due to cast illness and circumstances beyond our control, all remaining performances of The 39 Steps are cancelled (Fri 12, Sat 13 and Sun 14 November).

“All ticket holders for these affected performances will be contacted by email and receive a full refund. We ask that you please bear with us and theatre@41 while the necessary arrangements are made and thank you for your patience at this time.

“We would like to express our utmost thanks to the cast and crew for their commitment and creativity over the past months. It is with a heavy heart that we make this necessary decision but look forward to putting on more great theatre in York next year.”

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

Copyright of The Press, York

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