Interview: 'It Brings a Lot of Joy': Actors Charlie Russell, Greg Tannahill, Nancy Zamit on Returning to PETER PAN GOES WRONG

'It's a total privilege to get to perform on Broadway. It's something that not every actor gets to do in their life, let alone twice for us three, actually!'

By: Dec. 14, 2023
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Interview: 'It Brings a Lot of Joy': Actors Charlie Russell, Greg Tannahill, Nancy Zamit on Returning to PETER PAN GOES WRONG
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Mischief, creators of the multi award-winning sell-out success The Play That Goes Wrong, have returned to the West End with their riotous spin on a timeless classic, the smash hit comedy Peter Pan Goes Wrong.

BroadwayWorld sat down to chat with some of original Mischief Theatre group - Charlie Russell, Greg Tannahill and Nancy Zamit, who are all back in the show on the West End for the festive season.

We discussed what it has been like returning to the Goes Wrong world, some of their favourite memories from the different runs of the show and which character they’d like to play.

What has it been like to be back in Peter Pan Goes Wrong on the West End?

Charlie: It's been wonderful for me! I've really enjoyed it. And I think it's quite nice to tackle it again, to be honest. It was such a long time ago that we did it last and so it's fun to take on the role and try and make sure it's fresh, and try and improve, which is really nice. And also, it's just a fun show to do around Christmas time! Brings a lot of joy.

Nancy: Bringing it back in America was really nice, because after all that time, we brought it back, and that was cool. But coming here . . . American humour and English humour are slightly different. Americans are almost more sincere and full of joy and English people are more sarcastic and ready to laugh at us in a cruel way, which is useful. [Laughs] I've enjoyed that sense of humour coming back and I’ve felt like I've been able to be a bit more sarcastic. I'm enjoying things that I didn't even realise I wasn't enjoying before! Now you can really push the dark humour of it, which is quite fun to come back to after such a lovely, wholesome American time. It's nice to have some cold British people to perform to.

Greg: Also, what's been nice about this is who we're working with because there's been a UK tour of Peter Pan Goes Wrong this year, which carries on until April I believe, so some of the cast from that and some of us from the US cast [are] coming together. So it's been great working together. And it also kept us fresh, because we can't just rely on the same old rhythms we're used to because we're working with someone else. 

Nancy: And most of that cast have been in Play That Goes Wrong or Comedy About A Bank Robbery and loads of other stuff, so it's like a Mischief supergroup doing a West End show, which is really cool because everyone knows each other or of each other. And now everyone's coming together, so socially, it's very lovely!

What was it like bringing the show to the States?

Nancy: I'm not gonna lie, that's been my dream since we made the show, and so I felt like I was living my dream. And now I don't know what to dream of because it was so perfect! It was absolutely the best job I've ever done. Everyone was just really amazing, everyone got on really well . . . it was just perfect. There was nothing wrong with it in my eyes - I just can't believe that happened. I’m still in shock! And the fact that we get to carry it on a bit, it's like an extra little cherry on top. I hate to sound really sappy, but it genuinely was amazing.

Charlie: It’s a total privilege to get to perform on Broadway. It's something that not every actor gets to do in their life, let alone twice for us three, actually! [Laughs] It’s a hugely incredible experience, full stop. But then to do it with an incredible American crew and understudies, to do a show that's very joyful and heartwarming, and something we'd made! It will be a cherished memory for the rest of my life. Definitely.

Nancy: It's so funny, the understudies that we've got here and in the US, it seems to legal that they're understudying us! It feels like we're frauds and these massively qualified people are like, “I'm your understudy!” Why? You should be doing it! [Laughs]

Charlie: But it’s because they’re so talented that they can do more than one thing, whereas we can only do one! [Laughs]

So were the audience reactions very different in the States versus the UK?

Nancy: Yeah, they are more sincere in the US. They like the magic and the happiness and the joy of it a little bit more, and the British audiences like the pantomime and the shouting more, I'd say.

Greg: Massive generalisation, but generally, English audiences sit down and go, “Okay, let's see what you got,” and they warm up quite quickly, hopefully, with our show. But Americans seem to come through the door and go “Okay, we're here to be entertained!” And they're just on the front foot with you very early on. Of course, all audiences vary, but that's how I felt! There's a certain amount of pre-show before the show even like starts, and the American audiences are very keen to play, sometimes too keen! [Laughs] But it was good fun. 

Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Charlie Russell (Sandra), Matthew Howell (Robert) and Greg Tannahill (Jonathan)
Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

What has it been like returning to the “Goes Wrong” shows?

Nancy: I feel like we've never left them! We've never stopped doing them!

Charlie: We're very lucky because we got to film Series Two of The Goes Wrong Show in 2021, when the UK was still quite locked down. We did it under quite strict conditions. At one point, actually, the the general UK lockdown conditions were less strict than the ones we were adhering to, to make sure that the the show could be made! And everyone on that TV show, Big Talk [Productions] and BBC and all the companies involved worked very hard to make that happen. But I do think that it's quite a special experience because so few projects were going ahead in 2021. So actually, it's not been that long since we did Goes Wrong!

Nancy: No! But we had to film a lot of that in isolation, without audiences, and audiences are so important in our shows. They're so important to the “Goes Wrong” element of it, because it's not going wrong unless there's an audience there - then you're just in a room rehearsing, essentially. So they are such a big character in it. Some of the show we shot without an audience in, and then we had to play it back to an audience to get their live laughter - that was a weird way round. So it's been great being back on stage. And it's been great being back together on stage in the UK because it's been a while!

We'd all go and see The Play That Goes Wrong and it felt like it was an old thing that we used to do in a previous life, even though it wasn't that long ago that we did a show together in the West End. But yeah, it's been a while, so it does feel nice to be home. It feels like coming home. 

Can you go a little bit into your characters within Peter Pan Goes Wrong specifically, and what that's been like returning to those roles?

Greg: So I play Jonathan, who's part of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, and he's been cast as Peter Pan in Peter Pan. In this particular show, his ego might have grown a little bit, possibly a bit too much. But similar thing to a lot of characters in this company, he just keeps trying to push forward. I don't think anyone has any idea of what a show stop is! [Laughs] And Jonathan in this one, he's at the mercy of other people controlling the wires that he’s attached to. Won’t go into too many spoilers but things happen, bruises occur! 

Charlie: Mine's not dissimilar in that Sandra in Peter Pan Goes Wrong, only actively makes one mistake, and she has to deal with everybody else's and is very driven in making sure that the show happens.

Nancy: What’s her one mistake?

Charlie: Well, I don't want to give a spoiler, but she accidentally puts Tootles in it. I mean, she says the correct line, it's just she didn't think about the situation. But other than that, it's her own vanity that lets her down, because she could be a better actor, but she lets her self-awareness and self-consciousness get in the way. Sometimes, she chooses the play over the right thing to do. So she has quite a nice journey in the show, starting quite rigid, quite strict, trying to protect her image a lot, and by the end, she learns not to always choose the play. Sometimes, you have to go with your heart.

Nancy: Aww! I love this one for Annie! This is the birth of the TV show Annie Twilloil, Peter Pan Goes Wrong. In The Play That Goes Wrong, she's a stage manager who discovers herself as an actress. In this one, she gets loads of roles thrown at her! My backstory for it is that she has had Robert Grove as her acting coach and he's just been like, “Commit! You have to commit to everything,” so she is over-committing to every single character, which created the role that is in the TV show - it enabled me to get to play the most ridiculous characters. So this is kind of like the “Annie Twilloil gateway drug,” which I really enjoy doing because you get to go into everything with full commitment. That's how she's “wrong” - she’s overcommitted and just plows in, which is great fun to do.

Without going into too many spoilers, there is a lot of physicality in this show. How do you prepare for that to make sure nothing actually goes wrong?

Greg: Practice, practice, practice, practice! It's a lot of safety measures, a lot of contingencies. A lot of teamwork, a lot of people to make sure the set “goes wrong” in a way that's not actually going to hurt us. None of us went away on special courses or anything like that. It's just us practicing, refining and making sure that we stay on top of that throughout the show as well. 

Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

Nancy: We also have a physio that works with us - we are broken people! [Laughs] Sometimes you can get so rehearsed . . . The last couple of days, I've had a few things that have become too safe, so they've become more dangerous or less dangerous - there’s this tipping point in the middle. At one point, something falls from the rake in my pathway, and it was happening really far away and it wasn't landing because it was too safe. They've done too good a job at keeping me safe. And I was like, “You got to put me in more danger!” And the last night we did it, it was closer and it was really great. In another section, I slide down a big slide thing, but it has to happen when the revolve is moving. And the revolve has to be fast enough for me to not hit my hips as I land, and it was going so slowly and safely that it was too slow and I ended up smashing my hips up. So it has to be dangerous in order for it to be safe. It's this triangle of humour that you've got to hit on every moment, which is like danger, speed, safety - it all has to fuse together, and everyone has to practice that.

Charlie: And then just as individuals, I feel very grateful for having had a bit of training so I feel well-equipped. You do a warm-up every day - you warm up your voice so that you don't hurt it, you warm up your body so that you don't sprain, stretch or pull a muscle. You need to learn, within yourself as an individual, what you need to do. So maybe it's certain kinds of physical exercise or lots of sleep, lots of water, being kind of boring!

A director once told me to treat yourself like a racehorse, treat yourself like an athlete. That might sound a little bit silly because we're definitely not athletes. But the way that our incredible stage management team take care of the sets, the props, the lights and the costumes, we are our own prop, our own costume and our own set. So it's our responsibility to take care of our bodies, and that includes our minds. Gone are the days of being a young actor where I thought I could go out every night! [Laughs] But I'm so lucky to get to do the job - it never really feels like a chore to look after yourself.

Nancy: We are quite a boring bunch! We just get through it now.


Charlie: The thing is, the day that you were a bit too tired and then you didn't feel like you did a good show . . . It's just not worth it.

Nancy: Not worth it!

Do you have any favourite memories from this past year of doing Peter Pan Goes Wrong? It could be from Broadway, California or London!

Charlie: So many!

Nancy: Literally everything! Well, I had my son with me a lot, and some of my favourite things are just how well he knows the show. He's five, so he's prime age for being in awe of everything. He knows some of the speeches that happen by heart, he's doing loads of sword fighting backstage, and to me, that's really special to have to experience that with my family. And you know, his high expectation of theatre - the only theatres he’s been in now are a Broadway theatre a West End theatre, and an LA theatre. So if I take him to a panto at the pub he’s gonna be like, “What the hell's going on?”  [Laughs] I have to bring him down a few pegs! But it's been amazing with him. Just doing the show again has just been amazing.

Charlie: This comes with a caveat because I enjoyed doing a show where half the cast were off. Not because I don't love everyone - and everyone was okay in the end! But we had this week on Broadway where it just so happened a lot of people went down with Covid. And obviously, now that I know everyone is okay, I can enjoy this a little bit more!

But there was a point where we thought we didn't have enough people to do the show. And so in the end, our Associate Director, Fred Gray, who was on a plane, went on that night when he arrived in New York. I was on stage with more people covering their roles than doing their original roles, and it was a brilliant show! Everyone was brilliant and worked together. It was quite magical. And I got the honour of working with all of those people. And then at the end of the show, the cast come together to put everything back, and it felt real - we had all come together and it was an analogy for the whole week. And then everyone came back and that was really fun, too!

Greg: So many lovely things! I'll just mention the celebrities we got to work with.

Nancy: Yeah!

Greg: Having Neil Patrick Harris, Ellie Kemper, Bradley Whitford, Daniel Dae Kim and of course, Harry Kershaw! Working with them for however long each one was with us was just really special and really fun - just great. It was amazing having them join us in the chaos, and they all brought their own unique thing to it. Years ago, if someone said all those people will be working with us, I would have said, “You’re having a laugh! That would never happen!” So that was cool! And that was scattered throughout our time in the US, which was great.

What was it like bringing those people into the Mischief world with all of that “Goes Wrong” drama?

Charlie: Well, in some ways, it was incredibly easy. I wasn't the one who had to direct them in to be fair! All of those performers are incredible in their own right. But, I don't know how, we hit the jackpot with the nicest people in Hollywood and New York!

Greg: Yes!

Charlie: They were kind, thoughtful . . . They cared about the work and they really wanted it to be good. And so actually, they fit in really easily because that tends to be our ethos, just trying to do our best and have a good time. It was really special. But hearing the audience go wild for different celebrities . . . It was like you might be knocked over by the noise, it was so loud! That was quite an experience.

Nancy: They were amazing. And it was really interesting seeing a successful actor’s process because they all prepared for the same role in completely different ways, with completely different attitudes, and all had the same result. But it was really interesting to see people from different theatre and film backgrounds, TV backgrounds, comedy backgrounds, not comedy backgrounds, how people prepared for the same thing. I found that fascinating! I learned so much from watching people's different processes in a really short space of time. That was really cool.

Charlie: They were also really game! They were up for jokes being at their expense, and I thought that was pretty cool.

If you could play any other character in Peter Pan Goes Wrong, who would it be and why?

Nancy: I think Robert, because I think it's similar to Annie - this is why I feel like she's learned from him - because he's multi-roling. But I like the idea of him being so Auguste  as a clown that he thinks that it's the best thing that's ever happened. There's never any doubt in his mind. And that really tickles me, that somebody could be that bold, just walk in a room and be like, “This it! What I'm doing is it.” That's just so funny! I love watching people do that, I think it's hysterical. So I think I’d be Robert.

Greg: I’d love to have a go at all of them, really! They’re all such fun. But maybe to challenge myself, Chris Bean, the director.

Nancy: What??

Greg: Because he's got to put up with so much throughout the show. He's just so stubborn and just won't accept that people will come expecting a pantomime. And he has a lot of audience interaction to deal with, a lot of crowd control work, and I think that'd be a great acting challenge. I'm always in awe of whoever plays Chris Bean in any of our shows because they've got to have an iron-like will to deal with fellow actors and the audience.

Nancy: Greg, I can’t believe you want to do an improv role! We've been trying to get you to improvise with us for years!

Greg: I’ll improvise with other people!

Charlie: Well, I am a little bit notorious for being somebody who corpses on stage. I laugh all the time, especially when I'm not meant to! So in that vein, I would like to play Max, because then I can just laugh and enjoy myself on stage and I wouldn't be ruining everything all the time! [Laughs] But I also do like the heart of Max. When I was at drama school, I often played that naive clown, so I would really love the opportunity to do that again. I think it's the connection with the audience that excites me the most, and the Get Out of Jail Free card for laughing!

And finally, how would you describe Peter Pan Goes Wrong in one word?

Nancy: Magical!

Charlie: I was gonna say magical!

Greg: Me too! Magical times three! “Relentless,” then. 

Charlie: I’m gonna go back to “joyful.” 

Peter Pan Goes Wrong runs from 23 November 2023 to 14 January 2024 at Lyric Theatre. The show will then be on tour across the UK until April 2024.

Another Mischief show, the Olivier-award-winning The Play That Goes Wrong, is currently runnning at the Duchess Theatre. Both Mind Mangler and The Play That Goes Wrong are running at New World Stages off-Broadway in New York City. More information on all of Mischief’s shows can be found on their website.

Main Photo Credit: Pamela Raith