Home Arts & Lit Review: The Play That Goes Wrong

Review: The Play That Goes Wrong

Ruth Braham gives five stars to 'The Play That Goes Wrong' at London's Duchess Theatre.

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There is a saying throughout the theatrical world, immortalised in song by Queen, “The Show Must Go On”. Never is this truer than when the hapless thespians of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society attempt to stumble their way through a performance, battling dropped lines, errant sound cues and a set that is clearly designed to kill them.

I am, of course, referring to the fantastically funny and expertly performed The Play That Goes Wrong, a Mischief Theatre production surrounding a group of amateur thespians putting on a play entitled “The Murder at Havisham Manor”, an Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery, complete with all the usual affairs, secrets and betrayals one expects of the genre. But the plot is not what is important and one can easily be forgiven for loosing details amongst the chaos. What is important is what the actors are able to do with it, taking the concept of a “play that goes wrong” to its logical extreme and beyond, with fantastic results.

The action starts early, with the cast coming out as the audience settles, searching for a lost dog and setting up the stage. Then we are treated to an introduction by the company’s “director” wincing as he reminds us of some of the Drama Society’s previous works, classics such as Roald Dahl’s James and the Peach and Snow White and the Tall Broad Gentleman”.

The actors themselves are amateur dramatics at its finest, wooden acting, malapropisms and forgotten lines abound and are met with good natured hilarity. (Dis)honourable mention must go to Florence, the “femme fatale” character, whose first iteration at least throws herself around the stage with gusto.

The highlight of production is the set which falls apart, breaks down and catches fire with perfect comic timing.

fantastically funny and expertly performed

The laughs come thick and fast, with a good mix of the predictable (a classic plank/rake moment) and complexly unexpected (the complete collapse of the study area) as the actors attempt to take it all in their stride. There are several lampshades hung on the more hilarious moments, “you’ve changed” one character remarks to “Florence” who, due to an accident is now being played, not by the original mousy understudy, but by the 30 something tech guy Trevor.

The star of the show is Hayden Woods’ admirable portrayal of Chris, the aforementioned director. A slightly neurotic chap whose attempts to continue as the plays inspector archetype despite the many misfortunes befalling the cast result in a meltdown over a misplaced leger, halfway through the first act. The show must go on though and his audible winces and deadpan reactions to his hapless castmates never fail to get a chuckle.

The small size and intimacy of the Duchess Theatre make it the perfect venue for such a production and the audience connects with the cast, almost forgetting that they themselves are actors.

The play is extremely humorous, and is sure to be a hit with fans of the likes of Monty Python and the “Reduced Shakespeare Company”. I fear words cannot do it justice and suggest that anyone who can goes to see it.

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