The Play That Goes Wrong – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields

Director: Mark Bell

Reviewer: James Garrington

Once in a while a play comes along that is so funny it makes you wonder if it is actually possible to die laughing.

There’s a certain part of us that loves to laugh at things going wrong. Indeed, for a lot of people, watching a production where there is a bit of a mishap actually makes their day and makes it more memorable. So creating a piece where the audience knows that they have permission to laugh gives everyone free rein to enjoy themselves.

Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is presenting a 1920s murder mystery, The Murder at Haversham Manor. This is, as director Chris Bean assures us, a serious piece of drama and a huge improvement on previous productions – but the production seems to be beset with difficulties ranging from dodgy props to faulty scenery and some very bad acting, as it seems that everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.

This is, of course, The Play That Goes Wrong, now in its fourth year in the West End and currently on tour, and little more can be said, without giving away the plot. The play is performed by an ensemble of eight, each brilliant in their own way – it is not easy, as an actor, to play a bad actor on stage. From the pre-show opening, as the technical crew make final adjustments to the set and search for mislaid items, through to the final dénouement of the murder mystery, each one of them is pitch-perfect and it is impossible to single any one of them out.

The crew is Gabriel Paul (Trevor) and Catherine Dryden (Annie), dressed of course in black and armed with a tool belt yet somehow always without the exact tool needed for a particular job. They are accompanied on stage by a ‘cast’ of six – Steven Rostance (Jonathan / Charles), Kazeem Tosin Amore (Robert / Thomas), Benjamin McMahon (Dennis / Perkins), Elena Valentine (Sandra / Florence), Bobby Hirston (Max / Cecil) and Liam Horrigan (Chris / the Inspector).

It’s incredibly slick and a reflection of the amount of rehearsal and teamwork that must have gone into creating something that works so well. The laughs just keep coming, as one snag follows on from another in quick succession – so even when there is an occasional inevitable real mishap on stage, it goes so quickly that it’s almost unnoticeable. The script by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields is incredibly clever in the way it sets up the jokes to play out later, and the set designed by Nigel Hook is a work of creative and engineering genius.

The Play That Goes Wrong is old-fashioned farce brought bang up to date and taken to a higher level. If anything it is actually too quick, and with too much going on, so it becomes impossible to take it all in at first viewing. By the end you’ll probably have no idea about why there might have been a murder, or who the guilty party is – but does it really matter? The joy is in the unfolding of the chaos, the attempts to keep things moving and the skill of the team that make it all possible.

A joy from start to finish. Highly recommended.

Runs until 24 March 2018 | Image: Robert Day

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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