Now in its eighth year on London’s West End, Mischief Company’s The Play That Goes Wrong wonderfully illustrates how mistakes by actors and stage technicians can derail a performance. This masterpiece, directed by Mark Bell, is running at the Duchess Theatre until at least April 2023.
Anya de Villiers stars as actress Sandra, whose status as leading lady in the Haversham murder mystery could be at stake. De Villiers trained with the National Youth Music Theatre in 2016 and graduated from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in 2020. We met on Zoom to talk about her time so far in her first West End production.
On the Appeal of The Play That Goes Wrong and its Sequels
Mischief Company was so successful with the first play that they released sequels covering other disastrous but well-intentioned scenarios, including a bank robbery, Peter Pan, and a magic show. Veteran performers David Suchet, Derek Jacobi, Kylie Minogue, and Josh Groban even joined in the hilarity. If de Villiers could ask any veteran actor to join a stage or television special, she would invite Emma Thompson, admiring her versatility and comedic timing.
While mystery is her favorite genre, de Villiers admitted that she “would be awful” for the job of detective in real-life. “I’d probably spend my time hiding in a cupboard, clock, or bookcase!” she said, laughing.
As the leading lady, Sandra is an interesting character to play, both as an actress and as a potential murder suspect. De Villiers found diving into Sandra’s mindset fun during rehearsals. “You’re not allowed to be such a diva in everyday life. It’s not acceptable the way [Sandra] behaves. She would definitely have no friends in real life.”
On Keeping Everyone Safe During Physical Comedy
With the show’s many stunts, it’s important for the actors to be mindful of the health and safety precautions involved. The company takes rehearsals seriously, solidifying teamwork skills and building trust. The cohesiveness is vital because everyone stays busy setting the tricks in motion onstage as well as offstage. “We were very lucky that we could rehearse in the theatre during the day and learn our way around the set.”
Warming up at these sessions is also paramount for optimal health. “We have to warm up physically to make sure we’re in shape so we don’t pull anything. We warm up our voices, too. I do a lot of screaming in the show.”
On Incorporating the Audience and Enjoying One’s Career
This play also focuses on the relationship actors have with audiences, which is different for each character. “Some really want to be strict in how they put on the play, as if it’s the most serious and important moment of their lives. For others, it’s such a revelation to be in front of these people when they laugh at things going wrong.”
“My character in this play is quite cool and hopefully, she wouldn’t be fazed that much. I’m not as easily unfazed as she is, but I suppose it just comes with practice. Doing it over and over again, everything becomes more natural,” de Villiers commented about her place on that spectrum.
De Villiers loves Mischief Company’s series and wants to be in their other productions. “Peter Pan is one of my favorite childhood stories. I love the idea of never growing up, which is probably why I’m an actor. I think doing Peter Pan Goes Wrong would be hilarious.”
Acting in the West End is a dream come true for de Villiers. She has advice for other young actors aspiring to reach similar heights. “I’m so happy that I’m here! It’s a bit cliché to say to be yourself, but I think until that clicks, it’s difficult to do that. Having faith in what you’re doing and being a kind person go a long way.”
Visit the show’s website to purchase tickets.