Writer: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Director: Mark Bell
Reviewer: Sara Jackson
The Play That Goes Wrong is simply magnificent. Properly, laugh-out-loud-until-you-ache hilarious. Certainly the funniest since One Man Two Guv’nors.
The humour is not clever, nor is it trying to be. It makes no clever satirical points, no comment on issues or acerbically witty puns. It’s not humour you can easily describe in text and point out “this is why it’s funny”. It is humour of broad strokes, physical and vocal; carried by energy and commitment, which does not mock or belittle anyone. It is humour born of a group of comic actors who’ve worked together for a long time and have honed their interplay and collective wit through endless performance, and their chemistry is unmistakable.
The outline of the play is wonderfully simple and Mischief Theatre Company’s treatment of the subject will be immediately and gloriously (or cringingly) familiar to anyone who has dabbled in am-dram, especially in their student days. In essence, the framing device is that of the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society (the first of whom we meet when they breathlessly stick their head round the bar door ten minutes before curtain up to ask if we’d help them find a misplaced CD) having finally found a show that fits their idiosyncratic needs, and hoping to make it through a performance without the various disasters that have befallen their other ill-fated projects. This, needless to say, is a forlorn hope at best. In fact, The Play That Goes Wrong may be the most accurate description of events in theatre. Everything goes wrong, start to finish, in ways that you may see coming (but will laugh at their surgically-precise delivery in any case), and in many that you will not. The gags fly thick and fast, and the only difficulty you may have is knowing which of the numerous funny things happening at the same time you should look at (on that note, do keep an eye on the technician’s booth).
Make no mistake, though, ‘broad’ comedy does not equate ‘stupid’ comedy. Though at first glance the escalating catastrophes and stock characters seem to place it squarely within farce, there is a great deal more to it. Elements of Python and the Goons, moments that could have come from the better episodes of Frasier, vintage music hall routines like Freddie Frinton’s Dinner For One, these are just some of the influences visible. But the assembly of the play is note-perfect, and the performances so exquisitely played as to allow the comedy maximum elbow room, while never letting you forget the college-drama framework.
Nigel Hook’s set design is exquisite, a perfectly designed catastrophe from start to finish, providing much of the comedy and polish of the piece. His design is the factor that brings this farce into the 21st century and must have come with the longest risk assessment in the history of theatre.
The cast balance each other perfectly, allowing the audience a clear insight into not only the character they are playing but the sublimely flawed person underneath. Dave Hearn as Max shows a strong and confident character being played by a first-time amateur on stage. He laps up every response from the audience and his childish grin throughout, gives away his character’s clear enjoyment of his first outing onstage, even stopping the action in places to take impromptu bows.
Special mention must also go to Rob Falconer as the much put-upon Trevor, who is engaging and funny throughout as the technician of the piece who is so busy looking for missing dogs and CDs that he misses almost all of his cues.
It is very rare that you come across a piece of theatre that cannot be improved, but this is one of those times. This piece does everything that you would want it to and more besides, you will cry with laughter. Do not miss it!
Runs until: Saturday 12th July.