FOLLOWING the sell-out success of their multi award-winning comedy The Play That Goes Wrong, Mischief Theatre are back on the road with their latest hit, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, which plays a five-night run at Lighthouse, Poole from Tuesday April 23 to Saturday April 27. Here, Jonathan Sayer, co-writer and Mischief Theatre Company Director fields our questions…

What have been the major comedy influences on the style of theatre you produce? A huge influence has been big physical slapstick comedy, tied in with traditional English humour. Fawlty Towers is the perfect example, stuff that really is about status and conflict.

But then we try to add an anarchic twist. The Marx brothers and Abbott & Costello have been big influences as well, just that fast thinking, quick dialogue with a million jokes coming at you as thick and fast as possible.

Why do you think your comedy shows work so well today?

I think people need to laugh a lot at the moment and I think we’re really good at offering pure escapism. It’s not political, it’s not about anything other than being as funny as you possibly can be, minute by minute, and making people laugh.

What has been the inspiration for some of the storylines – and for the play within a play concept for the Goes Wrong shows? A huge inspiration for The Comedy About A Bank Robbery has been silent comedies, big physical comedy, like Charlie Chaplin. A lot of that work started out in the theatre, in vaudeville and in the music hall, doing these big dangerous stunts and then they moved it onto the silent screen.

And aside from the bigger conceptual ideas there are also (sadly) moments taken from our own lives. If we’re talking about The Play That Goes Wrong, I’ve definitely missed an entrance in a straight play before. I know that Henry Lewis, one of the writers, got stuck in a dog flap once and that comes up in Peter Pan Goes Wrong. There’s a whole list of embarrassing moments that happened to us in real life!

What turns an initial idea into a production that gets taken forward? First of all, it’s just about sitting down and forcing yourself to write it. I co-write with Henry Shields and Henry Lewis. And then the way we work is that we develop all the scripts with the core creative team, so we’ll write a script and get it on its feet with the guys and workshop it and they’ll critique it and add to it.

And then you bring in creatives, designers, directors and others and then it snowballs under the wonderful auspices of our producers.

There is a large element of physical slapstick which requires split-second timing – have there ever been any serious mishaps? There have been some serious mishaps; we’ve had broken feet, dislocated shoulders, concussions (I’ve had three concussions), lots of repetitive stress, but on the whole everything is very safe and definitely well-rehearsed. It’s a contact sport I suppose and, particularly with the original team, you get such a huge amount of enthusiasm and people who are really happy to throw themselves around.

What advice would you give to other young theatre companies starting out? Just go for it! Make something happen and don’t be scared to fail.

When you fail you’ll look back and feel proud and find that you’ve learnt something. Very often you find that the only thing that stops you from doing something is yourself. There’s always a million different reasons not to put yourself out there and have a go, and only one reason to do it. So just really remember that one reason and be driven by your passion and your friends and your heart. It’s always really scary, so just be bold and take a jump at it.