Jonathan Sayer talks about Mind Mangler

Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle. Jonathan Sayer. Credit: Anna Clare

Jonathan Sayer talks to us about his role in the stage show Mind Mangler: Member Of The Tragic Circle.

It's been 12 years since you premiered The Play That Goes Wrong in a pub theatre. It went on to grow into an award-winning West End smash. Would it be fair to say that production has totally changed your life?

Absolutely! I was working in a call centre at the time trying to do everything I could to make ends meet. I think if it wasn't for The Play That Goes Wrong I'd be living a very different life now. The show has sent me all around the world and allowed me to meet and work with some of the most amazing and funny people! I'm tremendously fortunate!

The Play That Goes Wrong continues, but with a different cast. Do you miss your characters and look on enviously at the new casts performing them, or are you pleased to be on other projects now?

I don't think I've had much chance to miss Dennis (my character)! We've revisited those roles quite frequently either with Peter Pan or in the two series of The Goes Wrong Show. So I feel like, in many ways, I know him (Dennis) better than I know myself. I also love watching the show with a new cast and seeing how the bring themselves to the Cornley characters.

Mind Mangler: Member Of The Magic Circle. Image shows left to right: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer

Your latest adventure is Mind Mangler. Can you tell us more about its genesis.

Of course! The Mind Mangler (Keith) and his Stooge (Steve) were first in Magic Goes Wrong, a show we created with Penn & Teller. That show was huge (a big cast with lots of set pieces). It was about different magicians performing in a fundraising night for victims injured during magic. We had a lot of fun creating it but we found an immediate sense of ease and flow writing for Keith and Steve (especially Keith).

After Magic Goes Wrong, we kept coming up with new routines for them and new jokes and eventually decided to do an hour long show in Edinburgh. Then, pretty quickly after that, we turned it into a two act show.

In regards to what audiences can expect, I think it's very funny. There's lots of jokes per page but also there's some great tricks and a nice story running through it about friendship and togetherness.

Can you talk a little more about the dynamic between the two characters. It's crucial to lots of the humour?

Yeah it's crucial! From a narrative point of the view the relationship between the two characters drives lots of the second act and gives the play an emotional anchor, but from a comedic point of view we get lots of humour from their dynamic. It's a traditional double act in the sense that it's one character who's slightly pompous and ambitious and one character who endlessly undermines and messes up no matter how hard he tries.

Mind Mangler: Member of the Tragic Circle. Image shows left to right: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer. Credit: Pamela Raith

As you mentioned, you've already performed Mind Mangler in Edinburgh, and you took it on tour and in New York. It must be a very honed show now? What have the reactions been like?

The reactions have been great. A big part of how we make work is to perform and learn from the audience and then make little tweaks (or big tweaks if needed) every time we remount the show. The production has been particularly good fun and we've always enjoyed a really great response from the audience but I'd say the show is really tight and well honed now. So we're in a good place!

Do you have a favourite magic trick?

It has to be Penn & Teller's 'sawing a person in half'. It's an amazing piece of machinery and a fantastically well designed and thought through illusion. It also fits perfectly with our work in that it deconstructs a well-known routine and has a huge magical surprise at the end that you're not expecting! Penn & Teller really are the masters of what they do!!

The Mind Mangler has performed on TV, for example memorably on Comic Relief 2022. Would you be up for a full televised magic special?

We would love that and I think the Mind Mangler would too!

Published: Monday 22nd April 2024

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