It’s cruel to ask one of the original Mischief Theatre company to choose their favourite comedy to date? But we couldn’t resist. We caught up with the fabulous Charlie Russell about Groan Ups and much more. Time to get booking!
Are we the same people at 30 as we were at 13? Does school life determine our future? Do we ever grow out of our school crush?
Playing an unruly classroom of kids and anarchic high school teenagers, through to the aches and pains of adulthood, Groan Ups is all about growing up.
Groan Ups is written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields and directed by Kirsty Patrick Ward. The cast features Bryony Corrigan, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields and Nancy Zamit, as well as George Haynes, Krystal Dockery and Holly Sumpton.
Talking to… Charlie Russell
Before Groan Ups, Charlie Russell starred in the original casts of Mischief Theatre hits The Play That Goes Wrong (in which she also made her Broadway debut in 2017), Peter Pan Goes Wrong, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery and Mischief Movie Night onstage, as well as, on screen, Peter Pan Goes Wrong and A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong.
How did you first get involved with Mischief Theatre?
Well, I had met Jonathan Sayer during a drama foundation course and we became firm friends. He then started LAMDA in 2008, met Henry Lewis and the whole gang, and I was still applying for drama schools. I had mentioned to Jonathan that I’d felt a bit out of practice and my LAMDA audition was coming up, so he suggested I join in an improv rehearsal with this new group of friends he’d made, the day before my audition. What I didn’t know at the time is that they were looking for new members, so I was unwittingly auditioning for them, too!
Did you ever anticipate then how far the company would go?
Yes and no. I can’t say I ever knew all this would happen. But at the same time, I always knew there was something about the group and the work we were creating that was remarkable. When I first met them, they were the funniest people I had ever met and were so dedicated and passionate. I just had this feeling we were on to something special.
I don’t know if there is any secret to the Mischief success, and in fact, I think the idea of there being one can be unhelpful to other artists and creatives. It’s just a combination of being good at what we do, working really hard and luck. You need some luck in this business, that’s for sure. We were just working hard enough that we could make the most of it when it came our way.
Do you have a favourite Mischief show to date?
Argh! You can’t ask me that! I loved Peter Pan Goes Wrong, especially performing it in the festive season as it feels so magical. But The Comedy About A Bank Robbery is very special to me. It has style, pace, and heart. Caprice, the character I played, is a joy – clever and a bit crooked! Saying all this, Groan Ups is fast becoming a favourite…
As a performer, what’s the difference between taking part in a Mischief comedy on stage versus screen?
The audience always plays a major role in Mischief work. On stage, you get the feedback instantly and each night they’re different, which keeps the show fresh and unpredictable. We were lucky performing in The Goes Wrong Show on the BBC that we also had live studio audiences to play off, and it’s so nice to hear the laughter. Whenever you had to pre-record something without an audience, we’d all come off set thinking it had gone terribly because no one had laughed – but there hadn’t been anyone there to laugh!
But with TV, the camera became a new cast member, and it was fun developing the ways you could interact with it.
How do you feel about the company’s year-long season at the Vaudeville Theatre?
Amazing! Nimax Theatres have always been so supportive, and our producers have worked so hard to give us this brilliant opportunity – you can only feel grateful! It’s up to us to make the most of it now…
Tell us about your character in Groan Ups.
I play Katie (which is also my sister’s name, which I occasionally find confusing). She finds comfort in the rules and finds security in structure. There’s a naughtier side to her that loves to have fun and laugh, but that only gets brought out by another character. She goes on quite a transformation in the play and is closely tied to the more serious storyline – that’s been really fun for me, getting to play the more serious, emotional scenes alongside the farce.
Any anecdotes from rehearsals?
We were playing a ball game to warm up, with a sort of light football-sized bouncy ball. It was my turn to start it and I thought it would be funny, as my character, to smash it into the ground shouting about playing by the rules. But I smashed it so hard, and at such a specific angle, that it flew straight back up and hit me in the face.
What can we look forward to about Magic Goes Wrong & the rest of the Vaudeville Theatre season?
I’m not in Magic Goes Wrong, but have watched it, and can tell you with certainty that it is hysterical. You’re going to see each actor like you’ve never seen them before. Bryony Corrigan and Nancy Zamit’s double act is mesmerising and hilarious. It’s such a treat for the eyes, too, a real spectacle. And, I mean… don’t want to ruin it for you, but Dave Hearn is truly unforgettable as The Blade.
Groan Ups only runs until 1 December, so people don’t have long to see it before Magic Goes Wrong starts on 14 December. Groan Ups is completely different and a phenomenal show. For the rest, you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled…
How about The Goes Wrong Show?
The Goes Wrong Show is six episodes, and something I am very proud of. Henry, Henry and Jonathan did an amazing job with the scripts, and the team we had at the BBC and with Big Talk were exceptional You’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for that too…
You also produced a show in Edinburgh this year. How did that go? What other non-Mischief plans do you have?
I produced Piano Play with Calum Finlay, who also wrote it, directed by Matt Hassall and performed by Ed Zanders. It was the first play I’d produced, the first play Calum had written and the first thing Ed had been in as an actor – thank god for Matt, the experienced director! We had a brilliant time and a really nice run at Underbelly, with some great reviews. And it looks like it will have a future life beyond Edinburgh, which is lovely.
I’m looking to focus on performing this year, and development. Calum has written another exceptional play, full-length, female-led and very funny so we want to develop that and see where we can get it.
I’m really looking forward to working with lots of other people as an actor, and on different styles of work. I’d like to vary my experience, both for personal growth and enjoyment but also as that can only benefit the work I do and contribute when I’m with Mischief.
So far, after Groan Ups, I’m pretty free – the possibilities are endless!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Well, thanks for interviewing me! I suppose I’d like to say how rewarding it is to work on such well written and developed new stuff, with your friends. It really is fulfilling to see how the work grows and becomes the play people are now seeing, as well as having so much fun along the way.
Something extra brilliant about Groan Ups has been working with directors Kirsty Patrick-Ward and Katie-Ann McDonough. They are ridiculously talented people who have been so good at facilitating and challenging us and making this show that I’m so proud to be a part of.
Groan Ups runs from 20 September to 1 December 2019 at the Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, Covent Garden, London WC2R 0NH, with Monday to Saturday evening performances at 7.30pm, Saturday matinees at 2.30pm, Sundays at 3pm and 7pm. Tickets from £20. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!