One Sunday afternoon, not all too long ago, Seán Carey took his seat for a matinee viewing of The Play That Goes Wrong. He’d just arrived in London, having grown up in Ireland, and was attending the show by himself. After spending the duration almost keeled over with laughter, he landed himself a job working front of house and towards the action.
“Getting the job at the theatre allowed me to watch it over and over and see the science behind why it’s so funny.” he starts, “That aspect of it fascinates me. It’s all about truth, generosity and musicality, and when all three work together it’s absolute magic.” The magicians behind the shows, hailed for their creative chaos and slapstick laughs is Mischief Theatre. Combining fine-tuned tricks with bold and bizarre illusions, their madcap shows are intelligent, witty and may end with a diagnosis of visual whiplash. Carey explains that the company originated as best friends making each other laugh and as a result “team-work is a cornerstone of the company.”
It wasn’t long before Carey traded in manning the programme stand to finding himself in it as an understudy. On this journey, he credits thanks to the original cast, in particular Dave Hearn who originated both Sam Monaghan, who Carey is portraying in sister show; The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, and Max, who happened to be his favourite character to understudy in The Play That Goes Wrong. As well as Fred Gray, an original cast member is now assistant director on Peter Pan Goes Wrong. The company really are a tight knit family, with cast and crew climbing the ladder - one that doesn’t fall, nor have a gunge bucket at the top - to new roles. "Everyone helps each other out and offers advice when you need it. You never stop learning.”
Carey is currently starring as Sam Monaghan in The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, a high action display of acrobatics, joyfully disorientating visuals and thigh slapping-ly funny one liners. A screwball comedic pastiche of the golden age of comedy, Mischief's hallmark really is organised chaos. Set in the 1950s, the show follows an escaped convict, his balmy sidetrick, swindling girlfriend and the maintenance man as they try to bag a priceless diamond entrusted with Minneapolis City Bank. “So Sam is the son of Ruth Monaghan, a bank clerk at Minneapolis City Bank. He’s a petty criminal who enjoys scamming people and picking the odd pocket. He never does anything maliciously though.” Carey insists, before admitting if he met him for a pint he'd probably end up leaving without a wallet.“When we meet Sam at the beginning of the play he doesn’t really think about the consequences of his actions. He’s just having a bit of harmless fun. By the end however…” he teases.
“I’d like to think I would do things differently but sadly I think I’m quite similar. I’ve yet to have to impersonate an elderly bank manager to rob a diamond in real life, but never say never. When it happens I’ll let you know what I do!”
Deciding that if he were to try and pull off a bank robbery, he would enlist his brother who is studying Engineering and his sister, who is studying Science, Carey sees himself as the sidekick “sitting in a bush shouting at the guards to distract them.” Growing up in Navan, he admits that he was always a little bit of an attention seeker, blaming it on being useless at sports. At the suggestion of his geography teacher, he joined a local amateur musical society and was cast as Baby John in West Side Story. The lead of Tony was played by Killian Donnelly (Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera). “I didn’t think acting was a realistic career choice before then, but he showed me that it was possible. I’d get lifts home from rehearsals with him, where he’d always be full of advice about how to break into the industry, the do’s and don’ts...”
Throughout school and uni, Carey racked up credits in Borstal Boy (Gaiety Theatre), as Tobias in Sweeney Todd (Cork Opera House), and Fyedka in Fiddler on the Roof (Gaiety Theatre) before moving over to London. “... But it’s safe to say I wouldn’t be where I am without Killian’s help and advice over the years.”
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery features a bounty of stunts, coordinated by Jaimie Quarrell. Last year the show hit the road and Carey took Sam Monaghan and his questionable antics across the country. It was on one of his smaller tricks that he managed to break his hand, mid-matinee in Cardiff. “I was hopping under a bed to hide from Mitch during the apartment scene, when my finger caught the edge of the bed and hyper-extended backwards, shattering the bone that connects my finger to my wrist.” he recalls, “I guess as is the case with any physical profession, you can be as prepared as you like, but the silliest of things can lead to some nasty injuries!”
It was recently announced that both The Play That Goes Wrong and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery have extended their West End runs at the Duchess Theatre and Criterion Theatre respectively, to November 2020. Attracting audiences from all over the globe, Mischief Theatre shows have defied all odds from being LAMDA students presenting to four paying guests at Fringe to creating productions in over 30 countries. Racking up the Olivier Award for ‘Best New Comedy’ and a Tony Award for ‘Broadway Transfer’ for The Play... Mischief show no signs of slowing down. This year, they have taken reign on the Vaudeville theatre with a season of new work; opening with new comedy Groan Ups, followed by Magic Goes Wrong.
“I think Slapstick is just so universal. It transcends language, which I guess is why The Play That Goes Wrong has done so well in so many different countries. Good slapstick, in my opinion, is watching someone try to succeed who completely lacks the means to do so.” Carey says. He uses his childhood favourite, Mr Bean, as a great example of an earnest protagonist trying to win and ultimately failing by making really dumb decisions. “The first Mr. Bean Movie is such an under-rated feel good gem of a film in my opinion too. It still gets me.”
He recommends YouTube searching ‘Mission Improbable’ from the movie. Written by Howard Goodall, the score is able to transcend generations and make them laugh, without uttering a word. “It’ll give you all the feels.”
At the point of talking, Carey has performed The Comedy About A Bank Robbery over 460 times and could, with a few bumps along the way, probably do it with his eyes shut. Though this comedic routine is just that, he acknowledges that there are new people seeing it each night. Whilst he confirms he doesn’t go on stage speaking German whilst dressed as a salmon, he does try to keep it fresh. “I just try slightly different intentions, or inflections on certain words.” he continues, “Audience reactions really help keep things fresh too, as they always laugh at different moments each night. Certain things will go down a storm some nights, then totally different things will get as good a reaction another night. Listening to the audience is just as important as listening to other people on stage.”
You could say he’s well rehearsed enough to be confident enough to mix things up, though the cast live in the semi luxury of when things go wrong, the audience may not detect a thing. Looking back at The Play That Goes Wrong, Carey reflects; “There was a scene in the middle of the show where I had to burst into the room with a fire extinguisher to put out a fire. I guess I got a bit carried away with my entrance on this particular night, as I managed to kick a hole THROUGH the door as I entered.
“They let me keep the panel I kicked, so I got all the writers and cast to sign it as a wee keepsake. I don’t know why they rehired me either!”
The Comedy About A Bank Robbery plays at the Criterion Theatre, London. Students can use code STUDENT15 and grab tickets for £15 each. Book tickets!