Beginning life as a troupe of drama school students performing award-winning improv at the Edinburgh Fringe, it's been heartening to watch Mischief Theatre go from strength-to-strength over the past decade. Even the theatre-shuttering lockdowns couldn’t stop them as they went online with a series of improvised shows under the banner Mischief Movie Night. And with our beloved venues now firmly open again, this week they have landed at the Aylesbury Waterside with their latest show, Magic Goes Wrong, which marries this sparky improv energy with a whole heap of spectacle aided by a partnership with the magicians Penn & Teller.
Taking the form of charity fundraiser, a set of magicians are trotted out on stage, each bearing similarities to more famous counterparts (there’s the extreme risk taker, the traditional magician with a wand and top hat, a pair of acrobatic contortionists – they’re all here), to perform their routines. And as the name suggests none of these acts go according to plan, with increasingly painful results for the performers.
A fabulous ensemble take on their parts with gusto and an admirable degree of audience participation. Even the magic impresses, with skilful trickery that means the chaos never threatens to derail the show. A slow first act gives way to an increasingly ambitious show, as disastrous routine smashes into disastrous routine. From a particularly hilarious moment leading into the interval it becomes clear that Mischief Theatre may well have their most ambitious stage show yet.
For all the technical prowess on stage (and some of the prop and set work here is particularly good), there is a charming old-fashioned quality to this show. Much of the appeal of Mischief Theatre comes from the expertly performed slapstick and sense of approachable danger. There’s something heartening about watching our characters try so hard to pull off their routines, even as things fail around them (I shan’t reveal the details as its more fun to go with as little information about individual moments that stand out). There is always a lyrical quality to this company’s work and it’s notable that their regular collaborator, returning director Adam Meggido, is one of the founding members of musical improv troupe Showstoppers.
It’s arguable that some of the purity of Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong is missing here, and this is notably the first Goes Wrong piece (including their uproarious Goes Wrong Show) that does not follow the travails of the Cornley Drama Society. But once this production manages to get past a slightly creaky opening it builds in confidence and finds that spark of ingenuity that makes every one of this company’s shows a must see.