There’s a moment during my conversation with Mischief Theatre co-founder Nancy Zamit where my head started to spin at the state of her upcoming diary.
Consider this. She’s currently rehearsing for a new play called Hummingbird, which debuts in London at the end of this month. She’s then heading straight over to New York for the Broadway debut of Peter Pan Goes Wrong. As she juggles those – and family life, coming to that – she’s also one of the key creative forces at Mischief, where unannounced projects appear to be amassing.
Mischief back and forth
It’s been quite a year since I last spoke to Zamit when things were a little bit more uncertain.
Back then, she and the Mischief gang were on the eve of the television hit The Goes Wrong Show’s second series launching on BBC One. It was a run of episodes put together in large part under Covid restrictions. There was a little bit of the unknown about that.
Sure, by that stage, they knew their way around television a little, not least from arguably their least successful venture into screen work (and their first project written directly for TV): A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. It’s their only television project they’ve not shot – by design at least – in front of a live crowd, and it was here they appreciated they needed a live audience to help make their shows sizzle.
For a while, due to the pox, a live audience didn’t look feasible with The Goes Wrong Show series 2, but in the end, they did get a chance to play edits of the show in front of a crowd during a recording they could get a live audience into. Reflecting on the A Christmas Carol show, I wonder if that felt like a low point in hindsight.
“No, no”, Zamit explains. “It was just us finding our feet really, because we’d obviously done Peter Pan Goes Wrong [for the BBC], but that was just the film version of our show, which wasn’t written for TV”.
Going forward, there’s plenty clearly bubbling in Mischief Towers, but for the minute, The Goes Wrong Show series 3 isn’t on the metaphorical stove. “It’s not currently happening. The Goes Wrong Show is very expensive to make!”. But also, there’s a new branch within Mischief that’s looking at new areas of development. “There are things in the pipeline, and we’re definitely not done with TV things”, she hints. And what about a feature film? “I think people are keen for films” is all she’s giving me. But she didn’t say no. We all know how clickbait works: 50% chance that’ll be the headline of this article.
“I have many hats in Mischief; I think we all do, really”, Zamit continues. Mischief has recently reorganised itself internally, and “the restructure of the company is to give the creative people more creativity, and the business people more business. Rather than having lots of people spread over lot of different things, which is kind of fine – we’ve got this far; it’s been 15 years! But it’s just really nice to be able to hire people for specific things”. As such, “we don’t need to do a big finance thing before we develop a farce. We can just develop the farce and not worry about finances”.
Apart from on stage – again, coming to that shortly – is there a specific place she holds in the retooled Mischief? “I think my position is more championing development of the company”, she says. “There’s a lot of pitching going on, and creative brains in lots of sectors: there’s theatre people, film people, TV people, and we’re all together, we’re all pitching”.
“I get to sit with some of the best theatre and TV people every month and ask what they think we should do. And they actually listen!
Where, within Mischief, is her happiest place? “Developing work”, Zamit grins. “If people have a script, I’m the person who can take the script to the show, and develop it in a way that it’ll be shit hot by the end of it!”
“We’re not precious with each other, it’s very open. It’s quite hard to come into because we’re so comfortable with each other and analyse each other. But I think it’s the reason our shows end up being so universal, because there are so many voices that are listened to”.
Not that Zamit’s work is exclusively mischief, with both a capital and lowercase m. Last summer, for instance, she took on a role in a theatrical musical called Tasting Notes. “Musical theatre is a whole new world to me. This year I don’t know why I’ve not stopped doing new musical workshops!” she laughs.
As we talk, she’s deep into preparing for a brand new play called Hummingbird. We establish there is no link with the Jason Statham-headlined movie of the same name. It’s written and directed by Christopher Neels and debuts at the Vault Festival later this month.
Zamit takes a starring role in the production, which also features Happy Valley breakout Amit Shah, and this is a project that, well, came to life a little closer to home than most. “Basically, I have some really exciting friends, and we were wondering what we could do. Myself and Louise Beresford – who’s also in [Mischief’s stage production] Magic Goes Wrong – when we left the show, we knew we wanted to do something together. We had a few writing sessions, and we like to develop scripts as well. We were waiting for one we wanted”.
Enter Christopher Neels. From the lounge by the sounds of it, given that he and Zamit are now married. But as she explains, “my husband wrote the first version of this show when he was about 26. He said if we’re going to get in a room and develop something, here’s a script”.
They took a look. “It was a lot of [now] us in our 30s going ‘we’re 26, what do I do with my life?!’ We were pissing ourselves, but it was a very buzzy room. We did a couple of read-throughs, Chris went away and did some rewrites, and then we did a week’s development of it with our other friend Callum [who’s behind Enjoy on Disney+]. It was a melding of friends”.
It’s worked out too. The resultant play is described as ‘Edward Albee’s The Goat meets Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, and there’s much excitement for it. She’s thrilled for him indoors, too. “Over the last five years, we’ve been raising a kid together. He’s supported my career hugely, and it was amazing to see the response to his script … amazing actors saying, ‘where’s this guy been’, that kind of thing’. He’s been in my house!”
And landing a spot at Vault? “We applied for Vault on the Friday night, the deadline was Monday morning. We were throwing stuff at the wall, but it’s turned into something we’re so proud of. It’s a really lovely collection of people that have come together”.
I do wonder where her confidence levels sit and if there’s a point in her life where, for want of a better way of putting it, she realised she’s not shit. “I don’t think there’s ever that point”, she wryly smiles. “You get older and less afraid, but I don’t think it goes anywhere. You just get used to living with it”.
Headspace and bright lights
As rehearsals for Hummingbird come together, Zamit also has eyes on her next commitment, too: and it’s a big one. She’s heading back to Broadway. She’s got a 16-week run in New York ahead of her, with an invite stretched out to Mischief to – finally! – take Peter Pan Goes Wrong to New York.
Zamit and Mischief have played Broadway before when The Play That Goes Wrong proved to be a smash hit. Yet it was a bittersweet experience for Zamit personally. “I ended up on Broadway, on Prozac”, she reflects. “I was really depressed, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently”.
She’s keenly aware of the paradox. That she was enjoying a career-high, but her mental health was preventing her from enjoying it. “It was a mad situation. I was getting more messages than ever before saying things like, you’re living the dream! I can’t believe that you’ve taken a show from the pub to Broadway! But I was waking up crying in the shower. I was having panic attacks on stage. There was such a disconnect”.
And now? “I’m glad to go again and have a do-over of that, knowing that I’m in a more stable place. Knowing what depression is, and my relationship with it”.
What’s more, she feels a little more in control of her life than she had before. “It was an amazing ride, don’t get me wrong”, she says of the rise of Mischief. “They were some of the best times of my life … and also some of the worst”. Zamit had an Olivier Award in her Ikea cabinet by the time she was 30, after all. But what she freely admits is she lacked authority over her own life. “Right now, I know if I want to do an interview, or a photo shoot, or to be a part of something. I’ve got a much firmer grasp on what’s important”.
This time then, Broadway beckons in a more positive light for her. With one significant caveat: she can’t take her child with her. Instead, her youngster is staying with her husband, a huge decision for a young family. Zamit was all set not to go until said husband bought her a book that talked about women “who are in creative jobs and have to deal with the relationship between the guilt of having their families or choosing creativity.
“He was like: of course you’re going [to Broadway]. He pointed out a man would probably feel a bit differently to a woman in this situation. But still, it’s important that I know what I’m doing. It’s not just for me anymore. It’s for my family, for my kid, for my husband”.
And a bit for you? “Six months doing a starring role on Broadway is totally for me, yeh”, she smiles. “But I really would have given that up for my family”.
There’s family history here too. Zamit’s dad is a musician who used to go away touring. “I was trying to remember if I remembered that”, Zamit admits.
I point out that my youngest would be the first to want to be rid of me, and she laughs, considering of her own son that “hopefully it’s something that, as a young boy, you can be proud seeing a woman make those decisions”.
And with that, Zamit heads back into her jam-packed diary, seemingly never being busier, but also with the space to enjoy it. All power to her. For someone whose business is so much going wrong, it’s really rather pleasant to see so much go right…