IF there’s a sequence that sums up the madcap charm of The Goes Wrong Show, it’s surely this. Members of a family gather, about to enjoy Sunday lunch, when they’re rudely interrupted by a workman falling through the conservatory roof on to the dinner table. Nobody bats an eyelid — indeed, carving commences as planned — but it’s the unfortunate workman’s bare buttocks, rather than a roast chicken, under the knife. Said buttocks are then expertly seasoned.
But something doesn’t quite go to plan when I watch the recording of this scene so the live studio audience is treated to the sight of the production team gently sweeping peppercorns from the plucky actor’s bottom before they try again. Everyone, without fail, falls about laughing.
‘That brush will hopefully be used as a moustache in the next episode,’ giggles show co-creator and star Jonathan Sayer.
I’m speaking to Sayer and his Olivier-winning Goes Wrong cohorts Henry Lewis and Henry Shields as they oversee the recording of six episodes that will air this Christmas on BBC1.
The trio are relaxed and maybe just a little relieved that a show that started out above a London pub with the avowed intention of channelling Fawlty Towers and Charlie Chaplin, then became a smash West End and Broadway hit, is obviously working for television too.
‘The next one we’re going to film at 90-degree angles, and upside down,’ promises Sayer.
‘If the producer isn’t quivering in the corner, you know it’s not ambitious enough,’ laughs Lewis. ‘We had this production meeting the other day and everyone was livid!’
‘It’s at that point you know you’re on the right lines,’ agrees Shields.
The Goes Wrong Show is genuinely unlike anything on television right now. It’s sheer slapstick silliness: in one episode, the props box for the Christmas tree and the Christmas dinner get mixed up so the turkey ends up as the star. The Airplane-style asides to camera, knockabout sets and camera equipment coming into shot can take some getting used to but once The Goes Wrong Show wins you over, you’re in.
‘When the show first came out there was a slight criticism that it wasn’t about anything, that it was just escapism,’ says Sayer. ‘But as the years have gone on that’s become its strength, I think. It’s unifying, which is nice in the current climate. It’s just unadulterated, fully committed nonsense. We’re being idiots who people can point and laugh at, and that’s something that appeals.’
The Goes Wrong team have actually done one-off television shows before (Peter Pan Goes Wrong and A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong) but for this first series they were desperate to replicate the connection they create with theatregoers — which is why it was deliberately filmed in front of a live audience, who are clearly shown to people viewing at home at the beginning of each episode.
‘I’ve never believed in the idea that when you do a comedy show, people are judging you, ready to hate it and wanting more than anything to be impressed,’ says Sayer. ‘Surely they really want it to be the best experience? A lot of work goes into these episodes, so we’re as confident as we can be that they’re funny, but in a way it’s easy to make people laugh. We’re playing a company of idiots, after all.’
Idiots but clever too. Although it started in a pub in 2012 with sets that fell down and just a handful of props, The Play That Goes Wrong has been on an upward curve since thanks to its simplicity, showing at London’s Duchess Theatre from 2014 and winning an Olivier for Best New Comedy 2015 in the process.
‘It’s someone trying to tell a story but everyone else making it very hard for them to tell that story,’ says Sayer.
If season one is a success, they’d like to make season two — and they have plans for a movie too.
‘We have an Arctic expedition idea,’ smirks Shields. ‘There’d be a one-off performance for them to do at the South Pole… they’re trying to rehearse as they’re knocked around on a fishing trawler, one of them might get eaten by a shark…’
You get the sense this is exactly how they write, bouncing increasingly ridiculous ideas off each other. Which is probably how Henry Lewis ended up spending most of the episode I saw in a ‘dry suit’ as water from the conservatory roof cascaded over him again and again, take after take.
‘So did water get into the suit?’ asks Shields in a tone approximating concern.
‘Oh yeah, the dry suit isn’t dry at all,’ confirms Lewis. ‘My underwear is just always drenched.’
The other two shriek with laughter at his unintentional innuendo.
‘Make sure you leave that in! In fact — make it the headline!’
The Goes Wrong Show is on BBC1 over the Christmas period