The Play That Goes Wrong – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Joe Longden

Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields

Original Director: Mark Bell

Director: Sean Turner

It seems strange to be talking about the performance of a play that has the title The Play That Goes Wrong but a performance of this magnitude needs to be celebrated. What begins as a play within a play as the characters attempt to perform the fictitious play The Murder at Haversham Manor turns into an evening of hijinks and hilarity as everything that could possibly go wrong goes wrong.

Crucial to this performance is the work of its crew, who make a coordinated effort to ensure that everything goes wrong at the right time. The trio of writers, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, have created a masterpiece, filled to the brim with comedy of all varieties – wordplay, physical and prop comedy – that leaves the audience laughing all night long.

Assisting with this is the work of Nigel Hook, the company set designer who must face every designer’s nightmare of watching his hard work fall apart; however, this just adds to the overall effect of the performance, with falling set pieces, a broken-down smoke-filled elevator, and a multitude of breakable objects for the cast to play around with.

Another piece of the backstage puzzle is the work of Mark Bell the original director, who is faced with the seemingly impossible task of coordinating a play within a play, as well as ensuring that his cast meets their marks so that everything can go wrong safely. Like the dances of a musical, the backstage crew choreograph the chaos for smooth, disastrous perfection.

The cast of the performance is an incredibly talented group who are dedicated to making this play as good as it can be, with many cast members returning to roles they performed in previous tours and even two members, Edi De Melo and Aisha Numah, who have graduated from understudy to cast member: they play their roles of Cecil Haversham/the gardener and Sandra/Florence brilliantly, clearly their years as understudies paid off. Colin Burnicle who plays Chris/Inspector Carter is magnificent in both his parts but especially beginning the play as Chris the director of the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society who gives a speech detailing the group’s previously unsuccessful productions such as Cat, and The Lion and The Wardrobe; this speech is just one example of the brilliant metadrama sprinkled into the script.

When Chris becomes Inspector Carter, he gives the play his all, but you can’t help but notice the signs coming through of a disgruntled Chris panicking as those around him forget their lines and miss their cues. However, two members of the cast steal the show, Gabriel Paul as Trevor, and Kazeem Tosin Amore as Robert/Thomas. Paul plays a crew member called Trevor in charge of the sound and lights on stage and from his position in one of the viewing boxes adding to the hilarity with musical misfires and hot mic revelations. Amore plays Robert whose character, Thomas Colleymoore, appears to be one of the more serious and astute characters watching the chaos unfold around him, but he is no stranger to it, having multiple prolonged interactions with the failing and collapsing set: he brings a physicality and comedic timing to the role as well as a powerful presence on stage.

Damien James performs wonderfully as the stuttering and misspeaking butler, Steven Rostance, and is hilarious as the sometimes overeager Charles Haversham providing a lot of laughs despite spending the majority of his time on stage dead. And finally, Beth Lilly playing the overzealous Annie who gets a chance to fill in for the unconscious Sandra is wild and wacky as she refuses to relinquish the role back to its original actress and instead puts on an outrageously over-the-top performance.

The Play that Goes Wrong is simply a masterpiece with an incredible cast and crew who make what should be a disaster into one of the finest comedy performances of all time: you find yourself on the edge of your seat not knowing where the next joke will come from, be it the slowly disintegrating set or the fantastic comedic timing of the actors. And even when the play seemingly breaks down into a pantomime-style fourth wall break it just adds to the laughs and exemplifies what this play is all about: fun.

Runs Until 30 July 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

A Playful Disastrous Success

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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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