Mind Mangler fuses farcical and nostalgic silliness with the terrifying threat of audience participation, and some genuinely impressive magicPamela Raith with permission for Varsity

I’ve been a big fan of Mischief Theatre for a good while now. I remember my parents taking me to see The Play that Goes Wrong when it toured to our hometown theatre when I was younger. It’s a tricky balance to create funny, family-friendly comedy that avoids the tropes and limitations of being reduced to pantomime-coded routines. But, Henry Lewis and Jonathon Sayer, the comic geniuses behind many of Mischief Theatre’s smash hits, always seem to manage it. Their most recent offering, Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle, is no different.

Mind Mangler fuses the farcical and nostalgic silliness that we’ve come to expect from the pair with the terrifying threat of audience participation, and some genuinely impressive magic. Traced by a sub-plot of two bitterly different best friends, one of whom has committed somewhat wholeheartedly to pretending to be an audience member, and the other who has recently lost his house, dog, and most of his self-respect in a messy divorce.

“The interval is a much detested break from the sheer hilarity of the show”

If you know Mischief Theatre, then you know what to expect. It’s not new; in fact, this play is exactly what we would expect from the pair in a show with this premise. But why fix something that isn’t broken? The dynamic between the two-man cast is classically hilarious, finding genius in its perfectly executed simplicity.

The show is made up by a series of short, sketch-like tricks, most of which involve a terrified audience member having a secret revealed, their thoughts read, or their name guessed. The two hours of this show absolutely fly by. The interval is a much detested break from the sheer hilarity of the show, and the main criticism I can level at Lewis and Sayer is that Mind Mangler is over all too quickly.

‘Ridiculous quickfire Jesus tricks’ (their words, not mine!) are performed immediately after a plethora of intentionally questionable mind-reading escapades. Some, however, are genuinely really impressive. The implausibility of some aspects makes for the best possible companion to the rest of the show’s slickly-rehearsed and impeccably produced sequences.

“The cast and crew of Mind Mangler are well up to the challenge”

I wouldn’t like to give too much more away. I reckon the show changes with every performance, but from what I saw yesterday evening, on their opening night at the Arts Theatre, the cast and crew of Mind Mangler are well up to the challenge. Some parts may well not change every night – but we’ll all find more of that childlike pleasure in this play if we don’t give the secrets away to each other.

That being said, a special mention must go to this production’s impressive collection of props. From an oversized chalkboard, to quite a worryingly large number of loaves of bread, and a full size ice cream freezer, no expense has been spared, despite some of the actors’ insistence to the contrary.


Mountain View

Cloud Eight and a Half is straightforward fun

The show has very few shortcomings. However, it must be noted that the show stands most confidently when the stage is shared. Henry Lewis opens alone, and while he is enduringly funny, the audience only start belly laughing with the entry of Jonathon Sayer. Mischief isn’t about one-man comedy though; it is distinctly about comedy gone wrong when the actors’ alter egos begin to wreak havoc on an otherwise perfect script. So if you sit through the first ten minutes and find yourself chortling, but wondering how this show has won such a plethora of excellent reviews, then sit tight. The best is yet to come.

I went with a friend who countered my almost embarrassingly long term love for Mischief Theatre with never having even heard of them before. We both adored this production; for old fans and new friends, take a trip to the Cambridge Arts Theatre for a very silly evening of Mischief.

Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle is showing at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday 25th May.