Dynamic Duo

Jonathan Sayer & Henry Lewis Talk Co-Creating & Starring in The Play That Goes Wrong, First Impressions at LAMDA, & Their Epic Olivier Night

May 15th, 2017 by

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Jonathan Sayer & Henry Lewis Talk Co-Creating & Starring ...

Olivier Award winners Jonathan Sayer (left) & Henry Lewis (right) make their Broadway debuts in the hit comedy they co-wrote and co-star in (along with Henry Shields), The Play That Goes Wrong. While Shields leads the show as the detective in the play within the play (as well as the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society's director), Sayer and Lewis are like an old-fashion comedy duo with their perfect timing and physical comedy bits that leave audiences howling for more.

Jonathan Sayer GIF - Henry Lewis GIF- Play that goes wrong GIF

Off-stage, Lewis serves as Artistic Director of the Mischief Theatre and Sayer is company director. Together, they have gone on to co-create and star in Mischief's other London hits The Comedy About a Bank Robbery and Peter Pan Goes Wrong. BroadwayBox caught up with the dynamic duo to talk first impressions, Olivier night secrets, and The Play That Goes Wrong rituals & hijinks.

Jonathan Sayer GIF - Henry Lewis GIF- Play that goes wrong GIF


My first impression of him at LAMDA:

Henry:
Jon was (forgive me!) a little disorganised at LAMDA, he used to lose his personal belongings constantly. One memorable time was when he arrived to a voice class in a t-shirt and boxer shorts having lost the trousers from off of his own legs. I know... how?!

Jonathan:
Henry was (forgive me too) a little stern looking. From what I gather he always looked like he was in his mid-thirties, since he was about ten years old. So, when I met him I thought he was a mature student! We then started to talk and I found that he is probably one of the most laid back and jovial people I have ever met. The opposite of stern if you will. He has a stern resting face though!


Moment I knew he’d make a terrific creative partner:

Henry:
Jon threw himself into everything we did and made me laugh so much I always knew.

Jonathan:
As soon as we started to talk. We made each other laugh a lot, but we also have a very similar way of looking at life in general. Hen also has a fantastic way of making the difficult feel easy and the impossible possible, which is fun.


A memory that still makes me laugh about the writing of this piece:

Henry:
At the very beginning some documentary filmmakers filmed our writing sessions which took place in our flat (we all lived together at the time). When we had finished writing for the evening they often stayed to record us in our regular lives, on one occasion they refused to leave. We continued our evening and I eventually ended up climbing into bed with them still filming me. I went to sleep, woke up the next morning and thankfully they had gone.

Jonathan:
I remember a writing session we had very late at night where we were looking at a section of the piece where atmospheric music keeps playing when it isn't suppose too. We were playing a piece of music from Nosferatu and we couldn't keep a straight face. The three of us were in hysterics. I remember it was at that point that I thought, 'Oh this could be a really funny piece.'


The biggest challenge we overcame growing Mischief Theatre:

Henry:
To keep the joyful, collaborative essence that sparked the company into being all those years ago whilst worrying about the commercial and financial pressures that come with having a more established company is a tricky balance to keep.

Jonathan:
Without doubt it is balancing the commercial and creative side of the work. To keep free and creative, despite a growing list of responsibilities and pressures. Identifying the difference between artistic and commercial collaboration and compromise, which are two very different things! Being a director of Mischief means you have to be able to exist and deal with the art and commerce sides of the work to find an equal sense of enthusiasm for both, as one can't really exist without the other.


I think our most memorable performance we’ve shared:

Henry:
Doing a section of The Play that Goes Wrong at the Royal Variety Performance at The Royal Albert Hall was incredibly special. But then so were the improv gigs for 7 people in the very beginning!

Jonathan:
We did a late night extra performance during the Edinburgh fringe in 2013. I think 340 people came, which at the time felt like an arena performance! Until that point, we had only really performed in small fringe spaces, so looking back it feels like a bit of a coming of age moment!


My favorite moment we share together in The Play That Goes Wrong:

Henry:
We carry one of the other characters out of the room on a stretcher in a fun way (no spoilers). It's a particularly strenuous sequence for both of us but it’s one of my favourite bits of physical comedy in the show.

Jonathan:
Just before the show we stand behind the door as the opening monologue starts. We always exchange a handshake and wish each other luck, just as we did the first ever time we performed the show in 2012. In fact, a lot of people in the company do that still. It gives backstage an oddly formal vibe because most of the cast and stage management shake hands. Dave Hearn shakes the hand of every member of cast, stage management and crew before the show. I think he has to come down to stage early to make sure he has time! 


The biggest way our process has changed from Play That Goes Wrong to The Comedy About a Bank Robbery:

Henry:
Well Bank Robbery is a very different show, much more narrative driven and our characters in Bank Robbery share an interesting relationship that is more than it seems at first so I enjoyed discovering that with Jon.

Jonathan:
I think the main difference in the writing is that CAABR is a narrative piece so the process wasn't just about finding a shared sense of humour, it was about finding a shared sense of narrative. From a performance point of view, I think the fun thing about Bank Robbery is how often it changes gear and playing style. One minute it is a crazy screwball comedy, then it is very physical and then it is very moving.


I’m in awe of his ability to:

Henry:
Be so damn kind and lovely to everyone he meets.

Jonathan:
Hen is extremely giving and generous. He has a strong mind but is equally happy to change and get behind other people’s ideas, which I think is a very important skill.


My craziest memory of the Olivier Award win:

Henry:
I tripped over Nicole Scherzinger backstage.

Jonathan:
When we got up to accept the award, I didn't realise how many cameras followed you up to the stage. At the time I was really not used to people filming me or taking photos so I remember concentrating very hard on looking natural (whatever that means) and not falling over or tripping up.


Fictional character that reminds me most of him:

Henry:
Jon looks quite a lot like the Quentin Blake illustration of Mr. Bunce the farmer in Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox.

Jonathan:
I look nothing like Mr. Bunce! Because of this I have changed my answer to be less flattering! I was going to say Hen is a little like Atticus Finch (in To Kill a Mockingbird not Go Set a Watchman) in that he has a strong moral character and a quiet dignity about him. But forget that, I'm going to change it now to “Oh I think Hen looks quite a lot like the love child of Fred Flintstone and the comic character Desperate Dan.” 

Play That Goes Wrong GIF

Don't miss Jonathan Sayer & Henry Lewis in The Play That Goes Wrong at Broadway's Lyceum Theatre.