Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields
Director: Sean Turner
Repulsive. Absolutely repulsive. Nearly eight years since debuting, the Cornley Drama Society still finds it difficult to achieve even the basics of civility. Dangerous, ill-mannered and a death trap, how any self-respecting production company can run a production like this is exceptionally obtuse. Is it too much to ask? Is it really a stretch of the imagination to feel safe in the knowledge their audience are cared for? How on earth can one manage a production like this without olives in the concession stand? Barbaric.
For those unfamiliar – The Play That Goes Wrong has a rather basic schtick; everything goes tits-up. And it is without question one of the most addictive and engaging theatrical debuts of the last decade. So, what’s the story? An amateur production company stages a murder mystery gone wrong, where the cast is determined to succeed but luck is not on their side. The star attraction of Mischief Theatre is the cast and production hands behind the set. As equally as vital as the live cast, the technicalities and timing of stagehands and production crews take centre praise for The Play That Goes Wrong.
If one has seen the production before or was lucky enough to catch it in its long-stay home at the Duchess Theatre, The Play That Goes Wrong has continued to split-sides and cheer the audiences of the UK with its testament of ability, dedication and total disregard for human life. None of the tricks and capers feels watered down (though the dog is missed), and even on repeat viewing, surprises still catch as audiences become absorbed within the characters and drama.
Maintaining a disgusting sense of energy the entire cast must have access to the good stuff to keep up with the show’s momentum. Leonard Cook, Tom Bulpett and April Hughes are catching with their synchronicity and back and forth, lunging books, tables and slapstick violence like it’s going out of fashion. Cook’s gravelly delivery sells every line with a vaudeville charm, making even the most mundane of lines a killer.
It’s pleasant to find Gabriel Paul and Tom Babbage still shackled to the company, veterans of both The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong, the energy and glee on their faces is a delight – Pauls back and forth with the audience removing the separation between stage and crowd. But as always, it is Nigel Hook and Mark Bell who have a triumphant hand in the retained success of the show. Hook’s set design is as gothic and traditional as can be for a murder mystery – and Bell’s direction maintains safety for the cast while pushing the envelope as far as possible. Hook’s unfolding and collapsing of the marvellous set is as equal a star of the show.
But, if we’re honest, we’re worried about Laura Kirman’s mental state as Annie, the stagehand and sudden understudy following some minor mishaps (which she in no way caused). The violent thirst for spotlight grows from the timid stagehand until Kirman becomes a star in their own right – battling the charismatic and determined April Hughes in a mirrored game of theatrical chess where only one can remain the star of the stage.
If you find an audience member not laughing, check their pulse. Or at the very least, never invite them back to a show – they’re better off at home with the news. Mischief Theatre’s original masterpiece maintains its ludicrous lustre for entertainment and brilliance with its simplicity but complex set-up and construction. Here’s hoping that Cornley Drama Soc continues to flap around and attempt to perfect Murder at Haversham Manor so that Mischief Theatre can continue to spread chaos across UK theatre and maintain its uplifting presence for years to come.
Continues on tour | Image: Contributed