The Play That Goes Wrong – The Opera House, Manchester
Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Director: Nick Bell
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
Mischief Theatre Company’s success has been something of a phenomenon over the last few years. The Play That Goes Wrong was the original creation that has become something of a franchise. Its huge success has spawned Peter Pan Goes Wrong as well as A Comedy About a Bank Robbery. Playing all over the world, in the West End and on Broadway, as well as being double Olivier winning; they have come an awful long way since their first performances above a pub.
Welcome to Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s production of ‘Murder at Haversham Hall’. Inspired by Michael Frayn’s Noises Off and possibly a little of Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques, this is the best/worst amateur dramatics production you will ever see. It is a premise that is as ingenious as well executed and the result is a fantastic, frenetic and frenzied farce that hits every funny spot it can. It is a genuine laugh out loud show from start to end. The set is poorly built, the cast are as useless as the stage management, the acting is terrible, the play is diabolical – and that is just the start. Anything that can go wrong does and yet the inept cast try their best to carry on regardless. It is perfect comedy gold.
Of course the cast must take on two roles – their on and off stage persona. Jake Curran, for example, not only plays Inspector Carter (the detective assigned to solve the paper thin murder mystery plot of the play within a play) but also Chris Bean – Cornley Polytechnic’s megalomaniac director and everything else besides. And this is where the true comedy of this farce lies – the balance between the ‘actor’ trying to stay in character and get through the play with everything around them going wrong!
It begins quite simply with the murdered dead body, Charles Haversham aka Jonathan Harris (Steven Rostance) struggling to stay dead. What ensues are a catalogue of long pauses, wrong entrances, ad libs, missed queues, double takes, a misbehaving set, severely injured actors, stage management stand ins and a thousand and one other things set to derail this am dram disaster. There is a gag every thirty seconds and the audience certainly get their money’s worth out of the production. The three writers and founder members of Mischief Theatre (Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields) pack so much into their two act comedy that is it hard to keep up with the pace. And the actors clown their way around the wobbly set at breakneck speed under the direction of clowning expert Mark Bell.
But special mention must go to Nigel Hook’s extraordinary set that breaks and misbehaves to perfection. It is like an extra character in the play itself as doors don’t close properly, mantel pieces fall off on queue and the upstairs room hangs precariously in the balance leaving the actors clinging onto the furniture mid-scene. The finale is too good to give away but let’s just say it pays remarkable homage to Buster Keaton’s infamous falling house silent movie.
The Play That Goes Wrong is fantastic fun. It is choreographed and executed with such tightness as the cast perform at 100 miles per hour. And what turns out to be silly to start with gets even more ridiculous as the terrible murder mystery descends in madness. The whole production is a gift for comedy actors who have the opportunity to play every trick in the book while trying to keep a straight face. With so many gags per minute it can be accused of slight overkill and by the end of the play the audience, never mind the cast, are exhausted with the onstage silliness. It is an awful lot of fun and it is understandable why this has been the theatrical comedy must see over the last few years.
Runs until Sat 30 June 2018 | Image: Robert Day