Dave Hearn is one of the founders of the Olivier award-winning Mischief Theatre, whose hit comedies include “The Play That Went Wrong” – and, well, all those top touring titles including “______ Goes Wrong”! Now, he’s going time travelling, taking time away from Mischief to revisit the H.G. Wells classic story “The Time Machine” in a comic version like no other you’ve seen before. The show stops at York Theatre Royal 14 – 18 March so here’s what Hearn has to say about his latest adventure…
Could you give us an overview of The Time Machine?
It’s a play about three actors who run a theatre company and are trying to put on a production of H.G. Wells’s classic sci-fi novel The Time Machine, with fairly limited success. But then a big event happens that causes the play to spiral out of control and my character discovers actual time travel.
It sounds quite in keeping with the work you’ve created with Mischief Theatre.
In some ways it is similar, though I’d say it’s less reliant on big set pieces and more focussed on the relationships between the characters. And I think it’s possibly more intellectually challenging, in the nicest way! The writers, Steven Canny and John Nicholson, have done a brilliant job.
Are you an H.G. Wells aficionado?
Not really, though I’m a big sci-fi fan in general. I read the entire Dune trilogy, which took me the best part of my life, but it’s mind-blowing stuff. I think the play does a great job of making Wells’ story accessible, even to those without knowledge of the source material.
Tell us a bit more about your character.
Well he’s called Dave, which is very on centre for me. He’s H.G. Wells’s great-great-grandson, and he’s very excited to be presenting a production of The Time Machine. He’s quite assured of his own writing gifts, and really wants to prove himself in this regard, even when it’s not completely appropriate. I quite respect him for that in many ways.
Was he named after you?
He wasn’t. In fact I originally auditioned for one of the other parts. I remember reading it and thinking I did an okay job, but felt intuitively that I’d be a better Dave. Eventually Original Theatre asked me to read for Dave, and then everything made a lot more sense. Plus Michael Dylan, who’s playing the role I originally read for, is much better at it than I was!
How did you get into acting originally?
I started quite late. I did GCSE drama because – believe it or not – I was a very shy young man, and decided doing drama might help boost my confidence. I got an A* and then, after a spell doing odd jobs, decided to go to Harlow College and do a BTEC in performing arts. I always really enjoyed it, though I think I was quite arrogant as well. I genuinely thought I was a great actor, and I remember talking to my mum about going to drama school like it was completely my choice.
But you did make it into LAMDA.
I did eventually get on the foundation course, and my parents sold their house and car to enable me to go. I don’t think I realised at the time just what a show of faith that was. They were so supportive. It was at LAMDA that I met the Mischief crew.
Did the awareness of what your parents had done increase the pressure on you to succeed?
That’s an interesting question, and I’ve never really thought about it. Growing up, my sister and I always felt like we got what we wanted but we didn’t feel spoiled. My parents somehow managed to strike that balance really well. I remember having a conversation where they said ‘if you really want to go, we will make it happen’. But even then I don’t think I really appreciated what they were doing, and how lucky I was. Maybe that’s for the best though, because I don’t know if I would’ve taken some of the risks I did if I’d felt all of that pressure.
How did The Play That Goes Wrong come into being?
It was around five or six years after we formed Mischief. We didn’t pay ourselves during that period, we just kept making sure we had enough to do Edinburgh every year. Then around 2012 we decided we would write a Christmas show, The Murder Before Christmas at the Old Red Lion. We performed it at 9.30pm each night and had to store the set on the roof under a tarpaulin, because there was no space. It was woefully unsafe, but we kept going and after we finished the run the artistic director asked us to come back a few weeks later because another show had cancelled. That show became The Play That Goes Wrong.
Did you ever imagine back then that it would still be running a decade later?
At the time we didn’t know what we had. It was an incremental success – after the Old Red Lion we did Trafalgar Studios, then Edinburgh, a tour, and then the West End and Broadway. It just kept building. A big turning point was when the producers Mark Bentley and Kenny Wax came to see us at Trafalgar, and showed such faith in it. They were probably the only ones who believed in the success it would become.
Obviously you’ve enjoyed a very successful decade with Mischief, but are you enjoying doing your own projects now?
It felt like a big decision for me not to go to Broadway with Peter Pan Goes Wrong. There were some personal reasons for that, but I’d wanted for a while to step away from Mischief. I could feel the beginnings of resentment creeping in, because I felt like I had to be loyal to the company. Nobody put that on me, that was all from me, but it felt right to step away. I’m enjoying being in a room with other people again. With Mischief the work is always very collaborative, but it’s actually quite nice just being told where to stand.
What advice would you give to younger actors?
I do some teaching at LAMDA now, and I often tell the students not to be afraid of failure. In the improv world we really encourage each other when we fail. So be brave and be courageous. But at the same time, if it makes you feel bad, don’t deny that. It’s all part of being human.
Finally, if you had a real time machine, where would you go?
I’d love to go to the future, and see what cool gadgets they have. Maybe I could go to the year 3,000, and see if Busted were right.
So there you have it! “The Time Machine” is at York Theatre Royal from 14-18 March 2023 – you can find more information and tickets here.
Q&A courtesy of Steve Pratt.
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