Starring the original cast and creators of the critically-acclaimed The Play That Goes Wrong, Mischief Movie Night is yet another improvisational show, which this time involves improvising an entire movie onstage and off the cuff.
The central conceit of the show is that we, the audience, control the performance – it’s our suggestions for genres, titles and locations that dictate what goes on onstage, and the ensemble cast must employ their considerable talents to realise the barrage of random demands yelled at them from the stalls in the moment.
I have to admit that I was rather sceptical and a little scared as I sat down to watch my very first long-form improv stage show. You see, the fear of audience participation has haunted me ever since my first traumatic pantomime experience at age 5. And yet, five minutes in to Mischief Movie Night, I was merrily shouting out genres along with the rest of the raucous audience!
The true joy of the improv show is that every performance is unique – you will quite literally never see it’s like again, because each one depends on the whim and the wants of its particular audience on a particular night. So I can’t comment on the quality of plot or characters, because they are ever-changing – but to give you a little taste of what Mischief Movie Night may entail, last night’s performance ended up being a Disney film set in Pontpandy, which featured chainsaw juggling, police propaganda and an anthropomorphic lasagne who talked like Sylvester Stallone. You know, your standard Disney fare.
It’s no wonder that Mischief Theatre has become so nationally and internationally beloved – the ensemble cast is superb across the board, catering to every silly request and daft diversion that’s demanded of them. Dave Hearn, Henry Shields, Ellie Morris and Charlie Russell were particular standouts, and Harry Kershaw was responsible for one of the show’s most hilarious running gags about not getting above your station. Jonathan Sayer gamely leads proceedings as a Gruff Rhys Jones-esque master of ceremonies in whose vast library is contained, so he says, every film ever made. Sayer guides us through the night’s entertainment, wryly commenting on the increasingly chaotic proceedings and making progressively silly demands of the cast who enthusiastically attempt to comply.
Often, these things don’t go off with the precision of a studio picture – and that’s why they are so much fun to watch. Much like Starkid – purveyors of peppy parodies about everything from Harry Potter to Pangea – the joy of Mischief Movie Night is seeing the performers tackle big ideas equipped not with fancy sets and special effects, but with skill and imagination only. In many ways, the show possesses the same frenetic, joyful energy, cineliterate references and talented ensemble cast as Horrible Histories, a compliment I wouldn’t give lightly. And even with the random onslaught of events onstage, the team manage to bring things to a surprisingly coherent climax, in which twists are revealed and happy endings are tied up in a neat (if slightly battered) bow.
Mischief Movie Night is yet another feather in Mischief Theatre’s increasingly crowded and critically-acclaimed cap. The same creative team will be bringing The Comedy About a Bank Robbery to the New Theatre on its UK tour in the autumn, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next! Until that rolls around, do yourself a favour and see Mischief Movie Night – what could go wrong?