Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Director: Mark Bell
Reviewer: Karen Bussell
It’s oh so very silly but a perfect antidote to a miserable May evening.
Mischief Theatre’s The Play that Goes Wrong is just that – a play within a play where chaos reigns as a stalwart am dram group is determined to reach the end of its piece while a tsunami of mishap and mayhem is unleashed. The double programme is a must – setting out the conceit of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society with fine detail not to be overlooked.
It all starts before curtain up with the cast wandering among the audience fixing stuff and looking important, recruiting assistance to hold props in place while a plethora of duct tape, inept hammers and broken brushes are employed. Master of ceremonies, society president, director and claiming almost all creative credits Chris Bean (Patrick Warner) delivers, in plummy tones, a profuse welcome reciting a lamentable list of previous low-cost, compromised cast productions including Cat, James and the (rapidly ripening) Peach, Ugly and the Beast, and apologising for the mix-up with Mamma Mia tickets.
So Murder at Haversham Manor opens and any unsuspecting audience member will very quickly know exactly what is in store for the next two hours as a high-octane catalogue of disasters commences with overacting, stuck doors, falling props, collapsing scenery, felled actors and missed cues aplenty. And it is relentless, obvious and very, very silly.
Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields’ clever script is a minefield of mangled words, Two Ronnies-esque Q&As, Groundhog Day moments and ambiguity. And silly. Just as Les Dawson excelled at misplaying the piano, so it takes accomplished actors to be this awful but the fine line between gauche and disbelief is carefully trodden.
Nigel Hook’s incredible set is devised with precision to fall apart – amazingly without truly injuring anyone – particularly the elevated study area where Edward Judge as Robert Grove as Thomas Colleymoore executes a beautifully choreographed scramble among tumbling plants, rolling desks, rotating globes and random chairs on a 45 degree incline to answer the phone and check his ledger.
Edward Howells is faithful manservant Dennis whose maths is akin to Diane Abbott’s and has those difficult words – mispronounced of course – written on his hand with his version of façade raising the most giggles while Jason Callender is the rather mobile corpse making an early exit and repeated mistimed entrances. The Poly’s hammy leading – and only – lady, is love interest Florence (a seemingly resilient Meg Morrell given the number of bangs on head and falling out of windows she sustains) pouting and posturing, determined to steal the show at every overacted episode and whose luvvie-off with stage manager Annie (Katie Bernstein), reluctantly hoicked into action to cover but rather liking the limelight, is a delight.
Rather less convincing as flighty debutant Florence (with no other options left, it’s Hobson’s choice) is the dour Trevor (Graeme Rooney) whose time at the sound desk is purely to tick off the electronics module for his degree but whose aim of the evening is to be reunited with Duran Duran. Alistair Kirton (Forgotten series two) is charming acting naïf Max/Cecil whose place on the boards has been bought but whose exuberance and glee at his showmanship is infectious with flailing arms, clunky gestures, broken sword, rogue sideburn and missing dog adding to the confusion.
The company, formed in 2008 by former LAMDA Drama School students, may be a one-trick pony but with panto, murder, robbery and improv already under its belt, it will be interesting to see what is next in the Mischief Theatre’s repertoire of malfunctioning mayhem.
Runs until 20 May 2017 | Image: Helen Murray