Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Director: Mark Bell
Reviewer: Nicole Evans
Collapsing stage sets, unconscious leading ladies and badly timed Duran Duran would normally be the characteristics of a production that was winging its way to the theatrical scrapheap but for The Play That Goes Wrong, it’s simply all par for the course. Morphing from the creative minds of an amateur Improv group, the play sets out to show us just about everything that can go wrong in a performance, and to prove that the show really must go on.
Having already established itself as a long-runner in the West End, it’s easy to think that this production should have nothing left to give, however, it’s one thing performing split-second timed slapstick night after night on the same familiar stage for a long run; a whole other thing entirely managing unfaltering comedy genius while taking such a show on tour. With the set literally falling down around the actors, the levels of precision executed to avoid actual catastrophe is a feat in itself considering their surroundings are changing on a weekly basis.
The drama starts in the auditorium with both actors and crew members running between queuing theatre-goers on a frantic search for a lost dog that is just a glimpse of the fun and frolics that are to follow and, as the story of The Murder at Haversham Manor unfolds, the gags barely cease. With platforms subsiding beneath the actors’ feet, leaving them clinging on to furniture for dear life, to the leading lady repeatedly being convincingly knocked out by doors and later getting caught up in a hilarious fight with her stand-in, the portrayed disasters are seamlessly juxtaposed with the successful telling of a typical whodunnit murder mystery – albeit a slightly surreal one.
If there is one thing this play does fail to convince us of is the inexperienced nature of its performers who are all far from amateur. Combining wince-worthy slapstick-style injuries with impeccably-timed delivery of lines – and successfully ignoring the chaos that surrounds them in the process – the cast work together sublimely to ensure the non-stop comedic action doesn’t fail to impress. Meg Mortell works hard not be outshone with her portrayal of the over-the-top Roxy Hart Wannabe, although Katie Bernstein comes close with her impressive drop-dive wrestling moves as Annie competes for the leading rôle. Alastair Kirton perfects the charming, nice-but-dim, ways of Cecil/Chris, going some way to convincing us he is shy and new to audience attention and Graeme Rooney offers a believable performance as the uninterested sound engineer who diverts our attention regularly despite being seated to the very side of the stage. Holding it all together, and by far the star of the show is Patrick Warner as Director Chris/Inspector Carter. Warner smoothly combines deadpan jokes, faultless lines and exasperated despair, executed with a Cleese-like quality that charms and tickles all at once to make for a highly entertaining performance that is a barrel of laughs to witness.
After setting the gag-bar high in Act I, the trials of keeping such a pace throughout do creep through during Act II with the troughs being easier to spot, and the last few minutes are almost too adorned with antics to keep a good track of. That being said, The Play That Goes Wrong screams organised chaos from start to finish and, although leaving the genuine improv roots behind, perfects the art of manufactured Mischief leaving the audience roaring with laughter. Laugh-a-minute pandemonium that’s not to be missed.
Runs until 28 January 2017 | Image: Helen Murray