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Are ‘Mischief Theatre’ the new ‘Crazy Gang?’

April 27, 2016

At best, the name Bud Flanagan now means to most people the singer of the “Dads Army” theme – recorded just days before he died. Older generations, and those interested in Variety, though, will nod in recognition at “The Crazy Gang.” A band of comedy makers who could fill the London Palladium and Victoria Palace Theatres twice nightly for years on end… and did.

They mostly wrote their own material – they had to, anything by anyone else required ‘bashing around a bit, until it suited us” according to Bud in his autobiography. Wordplay, knockabout physical comedy, the odd song and ‘chasing a chorus girl up the aisle with a chopper’ (easy, missus), kept audiences entranced for decades.

Hmm, “wordplay, knockabout physical comedy, the odd song, invading the auditorium…” Sounds familiar today…

I’m talking about Mischief Theatre. A gang of drama school graduates who decided to write their own play when nobody else would employ them. Now it looks very much as if they will have THREE running simultaneously, come Christmas this year – “The Play That Goes Wrong,” “Peter Pan Goes Wrong,” and newest effort “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.”

In the original cast we see the familiar faces, sometimes playing the roles they’ve done previously – Fawltyesque, Funny Big Man, Nervous Wimp, Glamour Girl and Mrs Bean – and other times playing firmly against anything they’ve done before.

The point is, they come as a team, an ensemble. The material has been written by and for themselves, and their joy is in performing it for us. If you seek the essence of the “Crazy Gang” in a modern setting, here it is.

Or maybe are they something else, as the sad passing of fellow fan Victoria Wood reminded me. Regular readers know I’m a life-long fan of Pamela Brown’s “Blue Door” books – about a group of teenage youngsters who open their own theatre – and I admit I do wonder if “Mischief Theatre” would be their grandchildren. I hope so, for Lynette, Maddy, Bulldog, Jeremy, Sandra, Nigel and Vicky would surely appreciate the mutual trust, creativity and companionship they exude.

Do we still have such a need for a company like this? The days of the West End troupe are long gone – even the “Branagh Season” and before it the “Jude Law” season didn’t use the same actors; the last I can remember in London was when the National Theatre operated individual troupes under several directors back in the 1980s.

My argument is that I think there is a place for it still, as Mischief Theatre demonstrate. Yes, we see the same names in various West End roles cropping up all the time (musicals, especially, where money dictates a ‘safe pair of hands’ is better than taking a chance). The joy of seeing a performer regularly is that, though we can predict the quality of a performance reasonably well, it’s fascinating to see the new character they play each time.

What Mischief Theatre, and their astute producer have done is create a brand based on that, more than that, a entire team inspiring a devoted following. Certainly, I recognised some members of the audience from previous performances, and on the day I attended most of the chatter was about how we were so pleased to see our “friends” once more – and anticipating how their latest efforts would be.

Whether “Crazy Gang,” “Blue Door” or (I’d say) a bit of both, I hope the team stay together for a long time to come, success holding them together – and I for one cannot wait for the magical day when an announcement may come that “Mischief Theatre will present something new.” Let’s hear it for the Mischief Makers, long may they last.




No blog next week – taking a “Bank Holiday Week break.” Back on the 11th May.

  1. Ada Plum permalink
    April 27, 2016 8:43 am

    Lovely piece, I’m a huge fan of MIschief Theatre – AND the Pamela Brown books, which I was beginning to think I had dreamed as nobody else seems to have heard of them. I have such happy memories of those, and happy current times thanks to Mischief.

    • Steve Rich permalink*
      April 27, 2016 9:31 am

      Glad you like the piece, and totally agree on both LOL.

      It took me years (pre-web) to track down ALL the books in the series – but it was so worth the effort. Often toyed with the idea of penning a fan-piece figuring out where they all may be now – my guess is second, third and fourth generations running the place – but maybe Mischief answer the question. You can’t really look at the team without thinking of Bulldog, Nigel, Lynette and Maddy in particular, can you!

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