Logie winner and Aussie TV veteran Brooke Satchwell takes to the stage for Mischief Theatre’s comic masterpiece, The Play That Goes Wrong.
A smash hit in London and on Broadway, The Play That Goes Wrong tells the story of ‘The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ as they attempt to stage a 1920s murder mystery.
As the title suggests, everything that can go wrong does go wrong, as the accident-prone thespians battle on against all the odds to get to their final curtain call.
A highly physical slapstick farce, The Play That Goes Wrong requires split-second timing and impeccable comic chops from its performers — and if anyone is up for that challenge, it’s Brooke Satchwell.
With more than 20 years in the business, Satchwell’s experiences — from television to theatre to film, both in front of and behind the camera — have prepared her for just about anything.
Ahead of the opening of The Play That Goes Wrong in Brisbane, Satchwell took time out to talk to us about the unique challenges presented by this show, what she’s learned about life after 20+ years in the entertainment industry, and why you won’t find her on social media.
What drew you to The Play That Goes Wrong?
Probably the best way to describe it is a moment that I had just this Sunday night during the performance [in Sydney]. At one stage, without giving too much away, my character is inside a clock, and the sounds of absolute hysteria and rolling waves from the audience killing themselves with laughter and having a fantastic time was giving me goosebumps. I was grinning like an idiot; just the sound of it was so beautiful.
That’s something that is testament to this project, as it’s been performed globally, is that it just brings so much joy to people, let alone us performers. That was probably the greatest thing that drew me to this project.
It definitely makes it fulfilling, doesn’t it?
Absolutely. I get really excited driving to work. I go ‘Yes!’ the minute my car is pointing to work; I am incredibly happy. For us as performers, it is such a precisely choreographed performance — there are so many elements at play, from the physical set pieces, to the precision timing, to the farcical comedy, to the performance of a character within the character, to the external aspects of the production. We have the collapsing set and explosions, there are just all sorts of things. There are so many things for us to navigate that it requires 100 per cent commitment, so as a performance it is immensely satisfying, and then that response from the audience is just magic.
What makes the play’s appeal so universal?
We love to see things go wrong from a distance. That’s why we watch monster trucks and silly cat videos, funniest home videos and all those sorts of things. They make you giggle. You get to see that drama of something mad happening without being directly engaged where there’s consequences. So seeing all the farce of people being knocked out and the chaos reigning — it just brings that silliness, that childlike kind of response out of the audience, where they get to have a giggle at someone else’s expense without there being, you know, immensely damaging ramifications.
What are some of the biggest differences you’ve found between acting in television and film, as opposed to the theatre?
I love film and television for the fact that you get to stay in a relationship with the various creators you’re working with over a longer period of time and you really get to build that group dynamic. There’s kind of an Amazing Race element, where you turn up at five in the morning, have your egg and bacon roll, then you have to execute what is on your call sheet for that day and it’s a huge challenge, which is great.
Theatre, obviously, I often liken it to stepping off into the darkness, because once you’re out there, there is no safety net, and obviously you’re also getting that direct response from the audience. You get to play with that energetic engagement. I mean, there’s always slight variations in certain performances each night. It’s amazing, the power that has; the different responses from the audience are actually really fascinating to play with. So there are absolute pluses for both.
Theatre teaches you an awful lot about how the slightest difference in a hand moving in a different direction, a head being raised at a certain point, a smile versus a frown, can completely alter the response, and that is very educational and fascinating as an actor, to get that direct response.
But I have also found, having worked for 20 years in predominantly commercial network television, that I enjoy that familiarity of being in people’s homes. Particularly when I was working on Neighbours. It generates this lovely kind of familiarity where people almost embrace you into their families. It’s quite a different dynamic, but they’re both equally fascinating and satisfying as a performer, because ultimately that’s what you’re trying to do, is engage and connect with the audience.
What’s it like to work with the UK’s Olivier Award-winning theatre company, Mischief Theatre?
I’m so proud of them. They’ve created this incredible production, it’s a real Cinderella story. You know, it was originally performed as a one-act play above the pub where their mates were all pulling beers, and now three years later it’s opening on Broadway with JJ Abrams producing, we’ve got the production up and running here in Australia, there’s a global touring company… it’s incredible, for it to have flourished and blossomed the way it has. I take my hat off to them, and the joy that this production offers to the world is just spectacular.
Does the Australian show bring any unique Australian flare, in comparison to the production over in the UK or Paris or anywhere else around the world where it’s performed?
There is a relatively strict template which applies to this, and much of the production relies on physical elements that have to be adhered to. There have been slight tweaks, however, and I know this has happened globally. Just more vernacular references, just so they resonate with the audience, but beyond that every aspect of the show seems to transcend the language barrier quite seamlessly.
You’ve worked on both comedies and dramas, would you say you have a favourite genre?
I love it all. That spectrum is what you can only hope for as an actor; to have that level of diversity in your work. I am pleased that I can bring out my inner clown with Black Comedy and Dirty Laundry. That’s a little bit more my natural way of being. So it has been great to engage in more projects that allow me to be silly and irreverent, and I also find there’s a great element of risk taking in comedy, which I quite enjoy. But with that said, there’s a quality in drama that’s immensely satisfying as well. So I love it all.
You started acting and modelling when you were just 15 years old. What made you want to pursue this career?
I always enjoyed putting on productions for family and friends, and photography, but I was usually behind the scenes pulling the strings. I would dress up my cousin to put on Christmas shows and photo shoots. Creative writing was also something I loved growing up. So storytelling, essentially.
Quite by chance, I was granted the opportunity to begin auditioning for commercials, just by nature of being home sick one day, and a lady who happened to be a casting agent happened to be passing through and gave us a card. I think my family… we all thought it was a bit strange. I was off from school sick with gastro and a cat scratch down my face, so we all thought she was a little mad, but it gave me an opportunity and a doorway to enter this world and see what it was all about. It just happened very naturally, so it was an amazing opportunity and it’s lasted 20 years so far.
Well, it’s definitely the career to express your creative side.
Yeah, and I really love people. I love making people laugh, I love connecting with people and I love sharing things with people, so it’s the perfect profession for that.
Do you think starting out so young brought about any advantages or disadvantages, in your career or personal life?
I think it’s really hard to say. What I have found really interesting about this industry, and I see it as a really very valuable lesson to have learnt at 15, is that everyone has their own pathway.
On that Neighbours set I was introduced to 53 different people on the floor of that studio who had come into industry via their own individual route. There is no linear progression, necessarily, into the entertainment industry. We are essentially sideshow carnies in a funny way, so it’s really fascinating to see these unique pathways that people go down to become a part of the entertainment industry. I think that gave me a really non-conformist and much more fluid and flexible view on how we can make our way in the world.
I think it’s a challenge for some people when you are going through career education and you’ve got to decide what you want to be when you grow up — you haven’t even stepped out into the world yet to discover what you could be and what’s out there and what resonates with you! So that gave me that opportunity at a very young age.
That said, obviously my life didn’t follow the precisely ‘normal’ path of a young teenager. So there are certain aspects of that rite of passage, when I was working 80 hour weeks, that I kind of missed out on. I sort of figure that fate is some part of the choices you make, and I’m pretty happy with where I’m at now, so I don’t see it as a negative.
You can waste a lot of energy looking back. I think there are pluses and minuses regardless of the choices you make in life anyway, but it has definitely given me a much broader, wider-ranging perspective on the world, that’s for sure.
You don’t have any social media presence. Is there any particular reason for that? Have you just been too busy working?
You know what, funnily enough, I think it was an incidental reason. When I first started working in Year 9… they were ridiculous hours for a 15-year-old to be keeping. I remember going into the DOS Prompt chat rooms when they were first invented and feeling a rush of connection with people. Suddenly there was all these people out there and everyone wanted to talk and it was fascinating, you know, and it was intoxicating, but then I had to go to work. And while I was busy working 80 hour weeks, Myspace and Facebook and Twitter and Instagram came along and I kind of felt like I just missed the boat.
I am very much a person-to-person kind of human being. I like having a good chat with people, going for dog walks and getting a cup of tea. The technological aspect just wasn’t part of my natural makeup.
You only have to Google my name to see a large part of me is frozen in time in those early internet days. I’m sort of perpetually 15, because there was a young gentleman who set up a website at the time — no doubt to be supportive of me, career-wise — but I found it a really strange kind of manifestation and I think a part of me tried to rebel against that. I never really wanted to be a part of that. I’m trying to move forward and grow here, and it’s all just so permanent. So again, I think I got a very strange lesson early on that everyone is just grappling with now about how permanent things are on the internet.
Sometimes I think, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be great to have that direct line of contact with people’. But then on the other hand, I have questions about how curated that kind of image is online, and I am pretty straightforward in how I deal with people and I’m pretty honest with anyone if they ask me a straightforward question. I don’t know. I’d rather do that person-to-person.
Social media does cut out the personable factor.
Yeah, it really does, and I think that’s one of the sad things. As much as it does connect people… when you’re travelling or when there’s a significant event that brings people together online, then it’s useful. But as a way of building relationships I think it’s a bit of a mirage, a bit of fool’s gold, because the connections that people build online, I question how tangible they are in that moment when you need someone to put their hand on your shoulder say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ or ‘Do you want to go hang out and do this?’ or whatever. I question where it is with all of that.
Because you are so passionate about a lot of causes, like RSPCA, World Vision and The Bottled Water Alliance, do you ever feel that having social media would give you a large and instant platform to advocate your beliefs and passions?
I do. It’s probably the only time I question my views in relation to that kind of social connection, sharing and raising of awareness and building of a cohesive response to the issues, and I do think that that is one of the areas where social media is immensely powerful.
But then again, as I’m sure you’ve seen, it does take physical action and direct person-to-person integration to actually affect change. You know, I think they call it hashtag activism or click activism, where people are sitting and clicking and going, ‘Yeah, I like that’, but it doesn’t ultimately create long-standing and valuable change, really.
So, yes, it is a great way to connect with people, and you never know, I may eat my words one day and I may change my mind for precisely that reason. But in the meantime, I prefer to be on a little bit of a grassroots level and actually proactively engage and make a difference. There are plenty of people out there doing it the other way ’round, and so I take my hat off to them, because that’s helping just as much.
So what’s next for Brooke Satchwell?
Well, this is a fairly all-consuming production, given the physical nature of it. During the days we are quite often tweaking things or going over things and travelling around a lot, being a touring company, and chatting to people about how we’re about to come to their home town. So the rest of my time is just a bit of R&R and stretching out the tired muscles.
But I am really excited, actually… at the end of last year a lot of people that I really respect and admire professionally offered me opportunities to do with writing and creating content; things that I have really dreamed of doing but perhaps have not had either the space or courage at the time to do.
And now I’m being provided with incredible opportunities to start building those dreams, so after 20 years, that’s pretty inspiring and exciting. I’m really looking forward to getting into that once this is finished.
The Play That Goes Wrong is on at the QPAC Concert Hall from Thursday 4 to Sunday 14 May 2017 — for tickets, head to theplaythatgoeswrong.com.au.