Director: Mark Bell
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
For a pretty obvious idea so rich in available humour, it’s hard to understand why it took so long for someone to create a play that was presented as a disastrous amateur production. This is the idea that Mischief Theatre came up with, in 2013 when The Play That Goes Wrong debuted above a pub. Five years later and the play has garnered both critical and commercial success, spawned a sequel (Peter Pan Goes Wrong) and several spin-offs, and established professional productions on every continent (except Antarctica). So what’s all the fuss about? Well, this UK tour should allow you to see for yourself…
The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is presenting a 1920s murder mystery entitled Murder at Haversham Manor, and you are the audience. We start with a quick introduction by lighting and sound man Trevor (Gabriel Paul having a lot of fun) and a pompous speech by the play’s director Chris Bean (played with hilariously mounting hysteria by Jake Curran). The play then starts and immediately – as the title suggests – goes wrong, with so much happening that it would be impossible to even attempt to describe it all. Steven Rostance plays a body that never seems to be able to act particularly dead – from people stepping on his hand to a brilliantly funny ‘subtle’ exit from the stage when his stretcher breaks. Benjamin McMahon plays a butler with a great running joke involving mispronouncing words written on the palm of his hand. Elena Valentine is the flapper upon whom countless indignities are heaped, not least of which. being knocked out cold, brilliantly pulled through an open window while unconscious and then understudied by Catherine Dryden’s stage manager Annie. Kazeem Tosin Amore finds himself in a very dangerous position when the set begins to disintegrate, and Bobby Hirston has the audience in stitches whenever he smiles his big, dopey grin at another disaster. All of the cast are superb, but the biggest star is Nigel Hook’s extremely impressive two-level set which never misses a cue when it’s required to break, stick, snap, smash or completely collapse.
Essential to any farce is slick direction and Mark Bell proves to be more than up to this challenge. The relentlessness of the script and the amount of complicated business and slapstick involved is mind-boggling. It’s a credit to Bell that it all seems so effortless and natural. If there is any room for criticism it is that the pace is perhaps a little too full-on at times. The script by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields is bulging with jokes and business and at certain points, it gets a little exhausting, while a few of the routines are drawn out to the point of hammering the joke too far into the ground. Sound also causes a little bit of an issue with no microphones being used. Even a minimal, subtle use of mics would benefit, particularly for the many lines delivered off-stage. However, it’s a nice problem to have when some of the dialogue can’t be heard over the uproarious laughter of your audience.
Overall The Play That Goes Wrong is a hysterical couple of hours of entertainment that constantly amuses and surprises right up to its inevitably destructive climax. This is farce in its purist form and is definitely worth a visit. You may even need to see it twice to be able to take everything in.
Top tip: Try and take your seat early. There is some pre-show on-stage business that not only sets up some of what is to follow but is also extremely funny.
Touring nationwide | Image: Contributed