Mischief Theatre has come a long way since its conception in 2008 by a scrappy group of LAMDA graduates. After the roaring success of The Play that Goes Wrong (which has won multiple awards and toured every continent except one), the group has branched out to TV, film, and even a podcast. So it’s little wonder that the promise of usual …Goes Wrong madness, combined with a heavy dose of Penn and Teller’s trademark zaniness, is more than enough to draw the crowds to Edinburgh’s Festival Theatre on a cold Wednesday evening. But will it live up to the hype established by Mischief Theatre’s previous works?
The answer is yes – and no. To be clear, there’s a lot to like about Magic Goes Wrong. The premise is simple: we’re attending a charity gala, hosted by the slightly anxious Sophisticato (Sam Hill) – who is eager to assure us that he has been cleared of any wrongdoing for his father’s unexpected and untimely demise. There are a variety of hapless acts, all performed with high-energy by a brilliant cast; whether it’s the Mind Mangler (Rory Fairburn) trying (and failing) to “touch the audience’s dead family members”, or German duo Bär and Spitzmaus (Chloe Tannenbaum and Jocelyn Prah, respectively) contorting themselves into increasingly tiny boxes, every performer has a compelling persona. The set devised by Will Bower and costumes designed by Roberto Surace are also a sight to behold, especially in the second half; the announcer at the start wasn’t joking when they warned us about the truly “offensive” amount of glitter.
There’s something missing, however. The joy of The Play that Goes Wrong – and the other entries in the series, like Peter Pan – is that they are played with complete sincerity. Even though the titles make it clear from the start what to expect, it’s still easy to suspend disbelief and believe that we really are watching increasingly distraught actors from the Cornley Drama Society trying to salvage their failing production. While there are definitely hints of that in Magic Goes Wrong – before the show even officially begins, we are treated to two panicky techies haplessly “fixing” a broken sign – it seems less invested in convincing us that this is a real, serious production, played by real, incompetent amateurs. The rest of the …Goes Wrong shows are also very tightly written and paced, while Magic Goes Wrong sometimes loses its way; this is possibly due to its variety-show format and lack of a predefined plot. While the successful tricks do elicit plenty of gasps from the audience, the actual mishaps aren’t always a shock; from the moment the circular saw is rolled onto the stage, we know that someone is going to leave the show with fewer legs than before. This is another departure from Mischief’s normal fare, which manages to keep the audience guessing with a fine balance between script mishaps, prop mix-ups, and collapsing sets.
The acting, sets, and actual magic in Magic Goes Wrong is a testament to Mischief Theatre’s creativity and talent. Unfortunately, the format itself hasn’t done them justice this time.