How Did It All Go Right For The Team Behind Peter Pan Goes Wrong?

“There’s such a need to laugh at the moment”

Mischief on a decade of mayhem, and why now is the perfect time for a nationwide tour of Peter Pan Goes Wrong.

When talking to the team that turned mishap into a fine art, there’s a question that inevitably comes up: has anything ever actually gone wrong?

Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields and Henry Lewis, who together form the core creative team of Mischief, have been causing mayhem for more than a decade now. Their success started with The Play That Goes Wrong, which grew from a short run in a pub theatre in 2012, where they had to lean against the set to stop it from accidentally falling over, to conquering the West End. Now this global sensation has been seen by over 3.5 million people, in over 30 countries, across all continents (except Antarctica!).

They’ve also had huge success with The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, Magic Goes Wrong, two series of The Goes Wrong Show on TV, countless improv nights, a podcast and, of course, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, in which the hopeless Cornley Drama Society attempt- and hilariously fail- to stage a production of J.M. Barrie’s classic.

Their shows are full of slapstick humour and carefully choreographed disasters, but so many shows over such a long period of time has inevitably meant that there have been occasional unscripted accidents, too.

As Peter Pan Goes Wrong sets off on a UK tour, the team remember one particularly hilarious moment. “At the end of the act one there’s a moment when Pan falls from the sky because his wire has snapped,” says Lewis. “The way we do it is that the actor flies out, then a dummy dressed in the same clothes fall down to create the illusion. During one performance, they were doing a scene in the nursery where Pan is talking to Wendy and suddenly the dummy dropped. Pan said the immortal line, ‘ignore that, that’s not me’. Thats the other, dead Pan.”

Sayer adds: “If that dummy drops, that’s it, the game’s up. There’s little you can do on stage, you can’t just sidestep it.”

It’s been a very Peter Pan year for the trio. As well as the UK tour which kicks off in September in Richmond, which they promise has ‘a fantastic cast’, they have just been performing the show on Broadway- where it was nominated for eight awards- and are now in LA for a run at the Ahmanson Theatre.

A few days earlier, Shields and Sayer were watching a grainy recording they made of the show’s very first run in a tiny theatre in London in 2013. “That was a really stark reminder of how far we’ve come,” says Shields. “There are lots of bits in the recording that are in the show now on Broadway, but there’s also so much that’s changed and evolved over time.”

When they’re standing on a Broadway stage or casting a national tour, do they ever take a moment to think about the progress they’ve made in the last decade?

“If you spend a lot of time looking at what’s happened,” says Sayer, then you’d probably take your eye off the ball a little bit. But there’s enough water under the bridge to notice the water a little bit more. There are landmarks that creep in, like recognising that ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’ premiered a decade ago, and when you do take stock it’s such a lovely surprise.”

And actually, their Broadway run marked the first time the three of them had done anything together in a while. “The thing that I’ve been reminded about is just how much laughter there is every single day,” says Sayer. 

In the meantime, they’ve each been working on individual projects. Lewis has taken the role of the Riddlemaster on ITV quiz show Riddiculous, as well as directing a show written by Shields called Good Luck, Studio. 

“The longer we’ve done Mischief, the more important it’s been to do other bits and bobs outside,” Lewis explains. “Mischief is an amazing thing, and I do genuinely love it with all my heart, but it’s also quite intense. We’ve all known each other for a long time, we’re friends as well, so it’s been interesting to go and do these other bits and bobs and bring those learnings back into Mischief.”

Sayer agrees. “It’s good to be a fully rounded person. A big part of my personality is that I really like sport and community events, so it’s been good to find a home for that.”

The home he’s referring to is his unexpected side hustle as co-chairman of semi-professional football club Ashton FC. He’s just written a book about what it’s like to run the Greater Manchester-based team called Nowhere To Run and, by the sounds of it, things are just as prone to going wrong in the world of football: after arriving a few minutes late for our video chat, he explains that he was dealing with an infestation of tens of thousands of bees under the pitch. 

For now, though, they’re focusing on the adventures of Peter Pan and Wendy and, as Lewis explains, it’s the perfect time for the show. 

“It’s all about not growing up and making life an adventure and laughing through it. I think that’s a message right now that really resonates.” 

For Sayer, “There’s such a need to laugh at the moment. Post-pandemic it has a kind of profundity to it that didn’t exist beforehand. There’s a need for silliness now, whereas before people would have just thought ‘that’s nice’. Right now, people could really do with some total nonsense, silliness and joyousness for a couple of hours.”