Since Christmas I’ve very much enjoyed Mischief Movie Night In, a series of 26 online improvised comedy plays by Mischief Theatre. The group are well known for The Goes Wrong Show and other specials on TV, and several successful theatre productions, of which I’ve seen Magic Goes Wrong and Comedy About A Bank Robbery so far.
Indeed, their Movie Nights have also been hit theatre shows, which I haven’t yet seen in person). But as they couldn’t do them in the normal way during the pandemic, they decided to try broadcasting them online instead, from a special studio in a bunker in London, following all the necessary Covid guidelines. They did a few shows from the 27th to 31st of December, completely unsure if it was worth the effort, but they proved to be incredibly popular, leading to further dates in January and February.
By the time it came to an end last night, they had performed to over 250,000 people in over 60 countries, providing much needed light relief while we’ve been stuck at home. And I’m happy to say I attended every single one, they were hilarious!
I mentioned the Christmas and January shows in my previous Favourites posts, but I thought I’d move the details here, adding in the February shows as well, to give a general overview of how it worked, and the full variety of weird and wonderful movies we got to see!
All of the shows were streamed live, and were completely improvised based on suggestions from the audience, which were gathered in a couple of ways.
Before the show began, people were invited to post suggestions on social media for funny characters and ‘awards’, such as a literary wizard called Trevor Noun or the loneliest conga line. They could do this during the half-hour countdown on the live stream, which mentioned various Mischief shows, advertised the Mystery Agency set of puzzle games, showed little sketches, and thanked the NHS.
The countdown was accompanied by some catchy music too, including Digger by Caravan Palace, Gypsie Doodle by Analogik, Bad Boy Good Man [Aerophon Mix] by Take Five & Gangster Trippin’ by Fatboy Slim. The end credits of every stream, meanwhile, were accompanied by Scat Life by Curtis Cole.
Once the stream began properly, we were introduced to our host and director for the show. This was usually Oscar, played by Jonathan Sayer. However, there were a few occasions where another member of the cast took on the Oscar role instead, and the director’s name was changed to Emmy when it was a lady in the chair. But the majority of the time it was Jonathan in charge.
The director’s first job was to get ideas for the genre, location and title of the movie from the Zoom participation panel on the monitor next to them. I never managed to be part of that, as the very limited tickets sold out pretty much instantly. There were some lucky people who got on it numerous times though, some faces became very familiar. A few people even got small roles during the shows now and again, if the director felt so inclined.
Once the basic details of the movie were established, two members of the cast in Social Media Corner would then flick through the ideas submitted on Facebook, Instagram & Twitter, picking one suggestion from each that had to be incorporated into the show.
Each show lasted about an hour. The director’s job was to set the scene to get things going and then, as if controlling a DVD player, they would use their remote to pause and commentate on the action, rewind to see things again, jump to additional cutaway scenes, and generally throw in new things for the cast to do. It’s a very effective way of keeping things fresh and interesting, so the movie is never allowed to get stuck in a rut.
Mind you, the cast never made it easy! They would sometimes lose track of who and what was going on, deliberately go off on weird tangents, see if they could casually drift into territory that wasn’t wholly family friendly, and would just be as silly as they could, often to wind the director up. And it would have the desired effect, as Oscar’s exasperated meltdowns were a constant highlight worth tuning in for alone!
There was a great rivalry there, as Oscar was only too happy to get his revenge, forcing them to do embarrassing songs, ridiculous dances or anything else to strip them of their dignity. But that also meant that when other members of the cast had the opportunity to take vengeance on him on a couple of occasions, as noted in the list of shows below, they leapt upon it!
And every single movie, without exception, was delightfully absurd, and much needed escapism. I loved the comical, farcical, musical and just plain chaotic nature of it all. It was always really funny seeing what they came up with and the tangles they got themselves into, including the many different characters, the inventive use of props, and the catchy song and dance numbers,
It takes a lot of creative skill and energy to do improvisation work like this on a regular basis, and the entire cast are amazing, I have a lot of admiration for them. Being able to create something new on the spot, sustain it for an hour and be consistently funny, on multiple occasions, is extremely impressive. They take their craft seriously, but they didn’t take the movies too seriously – it was abundantly clear how much fun they were having, and that’s why it worked so well.
The musicians Richard Baker & Yshani Perinpanayagam, who were improvising and playing the score on every show, also deserve a lot of credit, as do the technical personnel doing on-screen graphics, green screen effects, cameras, lighting, sound, etc. They were all having to respond to what the cast were doing in real-time, which is no mean feat. On top of that, a regular feature of the show was the movie posters that members of the audience were drawing and sending in while the movie was happening, and they always looked very cool. So there was a lot of wonderful creativity from all angles.
The Mischief team also made the effort to be accessible when the level of interest in the shows became apparent. So a couple of shows had British Sign Language from Karen Gager and captions by StageText. And the very final show on Sunday had audio description provided by Willie Elliott for VocalEyes, plus a virtual tour. I had been able to see the rest of the shows well enough on my big computer screen, so the lack of audio description hadn’t been a problem for me personally. But I was intrigued to see how a live and improvised show like this could be described, so I signed up for the audio described version of the last movie. More on that below when I get to the final show.
The first set of productions between Christmas and New Year were:
- Lasers & Quasars – A musical set on a cruise ship in space, including talking asteroids and an important lesson about taking a pet sloth on a date.
- I Found It In The Bushes – A teen vampire horror set in a palace, including a father and son who kept getting their names mixed up, and timely advice from a member of the audience playing a ghost from Blackpool.
- Who Bun It? – A murder mystery in a village church, where all the characters were animals, some of whom greatly amused a local taxi driver by dancing.
- Flat Pack Attack – A fantasy horror set in Ikea, including a character who talks in rhyming couplets and a death marked in traditional fashion by an Irish jig.
- From Russia With Gloves – A spy thriller set in a rainforest, including a spy falling in love with her talking pet koala, and a man doing the loneliest conga.
- Cat In The Habit – A period drama about star-crossed lovers in a convent, including a character called Penelope Mayhem and some unusual product placement.
Then in January we had:
- Careless Whisper – An 80s musical set in a library, which is going to be knocked down by the mayor in favour of a tech centre with lots of computers. It included a very impressive hat toss on to another person’s head, with several humorous failures to recreate it, plus a rap battle, and a bulldozer being bulldozed by another bulldozer.
- The Primary Cape Crusader – A superhero movie set in a school, with a bit of time travel, a goblin whose high fives keep getting rejected, a spontaneous can-can, and a character bragging about something completely unworthy.
- Dressed For Danger – A murder mystery set in the final dress rehearsal for a musical, with a commercial break for muslin cloths, a game of hide and seek, and characters who are convinced they are a western gunslinger and a tiger.
- A Cop In The Ocean – A police buddy movie set at the dockyard, featuring a character always riding an invisible horse, green screen scenes where the locations didn’t match what was happening, a guy doing limericks for money, and a silent movie sequence.
- High Tide School – A disaster movie about a flood, set in an American high school, including a sea shanty, a monologue by a shark, a group of 7 ducks who help to save the day after a guy denies having them under his trench coat for most of the film, and a deliberate pratfall during a dramatic scene.
- The Suicide Squid – A superhero movie set in an aquarium, which gets into trouble after taking delivery of a Gastronomical Illusion fish, that is designed to kill other fish, can read minds, and turns his new keeper into a human squid with the superpowers of tentacles and ink squirting. It also included a big musical number in a restaurant where everyone bounces up and down on pogo sticks, and an emotional thumb war with a dark ending.
- Now Museum, Now You Don’t – A musical heist set in the Natural History Museum, including a hostage rescue in a location with no hostages, a phone call from a guy’s parents as he’s about to do the heist, and a lot of people called Dan. This midnight matinee – timed to give Americans a chance to watch it at a decent hour for once -also included a cameo from Oscar the director, which allowed other members of the cast to get their revenge for the daft things he’s been making them do, by getting him to dance while singing about cleaning windows. Oscar swiftly got his own back, however, by making them repeat their impression of going down a drainpipe over and over again!
- The Wizard Of Paddington Station – A Disney musical set at the railway station, where an evil wizard uses magic to delay all the trains and mess around with people’s taxes and expenses, with assistants he created by transforming old train tickets into living beings. There’s also a lady working at the station who can do magic, but she isn’t allowed to use her powers and they then get stolen from her, and she’s protected by some friendly rubbish bins that she talks to and sings a very fast song with. It also includes a character who is very bitter about a parking ticket he got a long time ago, another who loves showing off his catwalk swagger, and a barbershop quartet with more than 4 people.
- The Light Over The Rocks – The story of a rock band making it in the music business, starting in the lighthouse where they rehearse. It included a song and choreographed dance routine about washing up, a character who can only speak in riddles, a mosh pit created by the Zoom participation panel, and several references to Chesney Hawkes in response to a suggestion by the “one and only” man himself, which he greatly approved of, and shared a clip of him watching with his family! It was an epic end to an epic week of shows.
And finally in February we got to enjoy:
- The Quest For Escape-A-Lot – An escape movie set in Camelot Castle, including a long scene in slow motion, a scene with Shakespearean rhyming dialogue and dancing, and a forest of magical stairlifts.
- Wild Feast – A western zombie movie set in Edinburgh, including a Hamilton style rap number, a character having difficulty with their stage entrance, a character who solves problems through tickling, and dramatic close ups (suggested by actress and singer Carrie Hope Fletcher).
- Look Out – A pirate movie set on a ship called Penguin Double Decker, including the Captain’s pet chicken called Mischief, a ballet routine, a character who likes to play Pick Up Sticks, the Ridiculous Council Of Elders, and some inappropriate use of happy, upbeat music during a sad scene.
- Look Out 2: They Sphinx It’s All Over – The sequel to Look Out, performed just a few hours later on the same day. The story was set in Egypt a couple of months later, and included musical theatre and 80s rap numbers for the council of ridiculous people, references to the Handforth Parish Council viral video, another ballet routine, and a tragic backstory for the lady who was on lookout for 10 years in the first film.
- What’s The Pointe? – A comedy mystery set in a New York City ballet school, including an unusual way of hailing a taxi, a trip to the Eiffel Tower, a character who wants people to appreciate his flower arrangements, and a Broadway musical number. It was also the first of 2 shows hosted by a female member of the team, replacing director Oscar with Emmy instead.
- Enter The Elephant – A kung-fu film set in a carnival, including a lot of people taking a bath together, a terrible trainee spy, a song for children about peeling an egg, and a new character that gets introduced just as the movie fades to black at the end.
- Love Behind Bars – A Valentine’s Day rom-com set in a prison, including prisoners who are set free for having relationships with the guards, lullabies sung to the inmates at night, an inappropriate romantic gesture during a funeral, and proof that walnuts are good for mental health. Oscar was also asked by a lady in the audience to pass on a proposal of marriage to her partner – which he accepted!
- The Temple Of The Red Giraffe – An adventure movie set in a temple named because it has a long flume sticking up out of it, where treasure is hidden in the giraffe’s eye. It includes a character who believes he’s a really good magician, and a salacious filing cabinet that sings about trousers – a routine that caused everyone to corpse with laughter, and Oscar the director to go out of his mind with even more bewilderment than usual!
- Nightmare On Bone Street – An 80s horror slasher film set at the Crufts dog show, with the actors playing the dogs as well as people, along with a tumble dryer and armoire (wardrobe) that both magically talk. Nancy Zamit once again took over as director Emmy, and for the very first time Jonathan Sayer braved the stage to take part in the movie himself, where he played a dog who could tap dance, talk and sing, and who gets tumbled dried and thrown around.
- Wishing For Wishy Washy – A pantomime about being careful what you wish for, as a literary wizard (and his full stop goblin who announces the end of every sentence) curses a girl to be a world-class potter who gradually forgets words and how to talk, and is banished to the Forest of Bad Grammar until she’s rescued using maths. It included a Blue Peter style demonstration of how to make an apology card, the heroine’s talking horse who is outcast from the other horses because he has cow udders, some breakdancing, a member of the Zoom panel brought in for the traditional shouting of “It’s behind you!”, and Oscar trying to explain what a panto is in to all the bemused members of the audience outside the UK!
- Fraud Of The Blings – A fantasy film set in a winter wonderland, with a queen and princess in a tower who own a special necklace that brings warmth to the kingdom. It included the Queen’s magical powers to make objects sentient (including a snowman who runs away from her), hobbits born from rabbits who live in the village, a lonely Ice King who shouts out of the window about his loneliness and believes his body parts are special powers when they’re just normal to everyone, his cumbersome catchphrase that leads to a song with a chorus of yodelling, and an executioner who becomes a cheerfully talking and singing rainbow.
That final show was nicely audio described by Willie Elliott for VocalEyes, and I’m impressed that he was able to keep track of what was going on! Before the show we were also told about the studio layout, and saw a pre-recorded video where the cast all introduced themselves, telling us what they looked like, what they were wearing, and giving examples of the different ways they might speak. The musicians also introduced themselves and gave a brief demonstration of some of the sounds they play as well. So it was lovely of them all to take the time to do that.
March 2021 Update: Check out my guest post for VocalEyes for more on the audio described performance.
And at the end of the final show there were beautiful and emotional words from Jonathan Sayer, thanking everybody for making it so special. It’s clearly meant a lot to them, having given them a purpose and an income, and that such a community has built up around it. And it’s meant a great deal to all of us in the audience as well, it really has been such a fantastically funny distraction during lockdown. When the show does go back to the theatre, I will certainly be keen to see it in person for the first time. I’d had no idea of the wondrous chaos I’d been missing out on until now!
It’s impossible to fully convey the madness in a post like this, but I hope you enjoyed reading about those shows. And many thanks to everyone at Mischief for all the laughs you’ve given us these past few months!
Now we just need to wait patiently for the upcoming DVD releases of Peter Pan Goes Wrong & A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong on 29 March, Series 2 of The Goes Wrong Show on TV, and their triumphant return to the stage, and whatever else they have in store. There’s certainly plenty more to come from them!