Have you ever found yourself sitting on your comfortable couch at night, with a freshly opened bottle of red, only to be thinking about the type of show that could be made if Agatha Christie had directed Noises Off? Me neither. BUT if you have, then wonder no more!
When I first came to London on my own in 2015, I was overwhelmed at my choice of shows. The West End was like a theatrical wet dream. Still to this day, I can remember riding the tube and passing a sign that immediately caught my attention, mainly due to the peculiarity of it. It read “The Play That Goes Wrong”, only it was upside down and the word “Wrong” was hanging off its hinges. It struck me that this was something different, a comedy or even a farce; my thirst for a theatrical farce can never be satiated. Having seen Noises Off! performed at an amateur and professional level back in Australia, I decided to take a chance.
Let’s just say The Play That Goes Wrong goes so right.
If you’ve ever taken part in a production – be it behind the scenes, on the stage, professional, amateur or simply in a high school production of The Crucible – you’ll have no trouble understanding the guise that The Play That Goes Wrong surrounds itself in. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society (here a dramatised amateur society) are staging their latest production, The Murder at Haversham Manor (think The Mousetrap). We are introduced to this production by the newly appointed Director of the society, Chris Bean (played by one of the three writers of the show, Henry Shields) who lists off the many *cough* wonderful *cough* productions the society has performed, such as their downsized version of the classic Roald Dahl book, entitled James and the Peach.
From here the farce continues where pretty much everything you think that can go wrong in a production does indeed go very, very wrong. I won’t give anything away but needless to say, if you don’t leave the theatre with your sides aching then I daresay you were not born with a sense of humour.
The real life production team behind The Play That Goes Wrong, Mischief Theatre, was founded in 2008 by a group of (in my opinion, brilliantly gifted) graduates of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Their roots lie in improvisation, as most finely structured shows do. The team is led by Artistic Director Henry Lewis and Company Director, Jonathan Sayer, both of whom are a part of the production – on a side note, I had the pleasure of meeting Lewis after the show and he was a delight!
Now I feel I need to actually review this production. As I type I’m struggling to find the words to describe it. How do you review what is perhaps one of the highest quality pieces of finely polished and tuned slapstick/farce/comic timing you’ll have the pleasure of seeing on stage?
The team at Mischief Theatre embody the term ensemble to perfection (prepare for me to reel off some names) as you see Rob Falconer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill, Henry Lewis (writer #2) , Jonathan Sayer (writer #3), Charlie Russell, Dave Hearn, Nancy Wallinger, April Hughes and Leonard Cook play their characters with ease and believability. Whether they’re playing the actor who breaks character to play to the audience, the over-acted femme fatale, the overworked stage crew who is forced onto the stage, or the bored lighting and sounds technician who has to sit through the same production repeatedly, you believe every minute of it.
Trust is something the cast have clearly built over the years and this shines on stage as each one is tossed about the stage, hit with doors, lights and even fists. Director Mark Bell must have hired his own paramedic team to patiently wait backstage at every performance, such is the precision and timing of his casts stage combat and comic choreography.
As much as the actors are a part of this production, there is another integral part of this, without which this show would not have reached its dizzying heights. I am of course speaking about the set design and the technical aspects of the production. The set is really a character on its own. It’s extremely effective in how the cast use it, hide behind it, pull things off it, stand on it and (spoilers) hang from it. Nigel Hooks design is genius with a capital ‘G’.
In case you couldn’t tell already, I loved it. Now I feel as if I have gushed and fan-boyed enough over this show. Do yourselves a favor, go and see it, you won’t regret it. And if any of the cast or members of Mischief Theatre are reading this, thank you, congratulations on your opening on Broadway and I have all my limbs crossed for the Tony’s!
Buy tickets for either ends of the front row…trust me.
The Play That Goes Wrong is now playing at the Duchess Theatre on London’s West End, the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway and on tour throughout the UK and Australia. Mischief Theatre also have productions set up worldwide. Click the link below for tickets and information.