Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields
Director: Mark Bell
Set Designer: Nigel Hook
Reviewer: Fraser MacDonald
Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society have finally done it. They’ve found the perfect play that can be cast without adapting the whole show. Not only that, they’ve hit the big time and are about to embark on a national tour to some of the biggest auditoriums in the country. With a crack team of actors, a diligent backstage team and an enthusiastic directorial debut, what can possibly go wrong?
Bringing the suspense, drama and action of Murder at Haversham Manor to the stage, in fact, proves to be a little bit more of a challenge than it first seems. Clumsy actors, dodgy set design and missed cues are only the start of the problem.
Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong returns to Glasgow’s King’s Theatre with a bang… and a crash and a wallop. The razor-sharp play is instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with the amateur dramatic scene. It is a riotous send up of all things theatre, from pretentious directors to half-arsed stage hands, but it succeeds because the audience do want these hopeless amateurs to succeed. No matter how pained the drama on stage appears, we do secretly root for just one line to be delivered without disaster striking. Such is the emotional investment in the characters, they cannot be more loved by the audience they play to.
Bursting – sometimes literally – onto the stage in its first Act, it is relentless in tickling us to the point of hysteria. One would not be surprised if the local GP would prescribe it to induce labour. It is insistent in its calamity, with one mistake causing the next in a delightful domino of disaster. One cannot look at any moment without seeing something more rib-tickling that the last. It truly is a masterclass in comedy, merging out-and-out slapstick with a slick and snappy script for the perfect potion of mishap.
Its second Act is a little more subdued, not in its efforts admittedly, but rather that by this point the audience are so immersed in the calamity they become immune to laughs that, one hour before, would have created hysteria. It is always difficult to come back from an interval and pick up from where you left off, but it doesn’t quite have the hold that its first Act does. This is no fault of the production; rather in the nature of comedy itself. This said, some of its most spectacular failures (intentional, it is important to add) appear in this half and the production ensures its audience are never far from the next over-the-top, spectacular catastrophe.
The fine line between genuine disaster and orchestrated chaos is incredibly well walked in Nigel Hook’s set; where most productions would shy away from the set being a focal point, here it is vital enough to qualify as another cast member. The entire ensemble performs a difficult act, allowing chaos to prevail whilst being in complete control. Their timing is crucial, with each an essential cog in the wheel to ensure the whole production runs smoothly… or otherwise. Bobby Histerton’s Max is a particular crowd pleaser, whilst Benjamin McMahon is a true delight in what is, unbelievably, his first professional performance since graduating from drama school.
It really is impossible not to love what Mischief Theatre have created here. The Play That Goes Wrong is sure to entertain even the most discerning theatre goer, and whilst we may laugh at the joyous calamity that enfolds in front of us, it is without a doubt that there is a right way of doing things wrong.
Runs until 3 March 2018, the touring | Image: Robert Day