REVIEW: The Play That Goes Wrong
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REVIEW: The Play That Goes Wrong: Mayflower Theatre 10 July 2017
(Images: Helen Murray)
My sides hurt from laughing at last night’s performance of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. In fact I really can’t remember when I laughed so much and for so long.
True, this slapstick play-within-a-play concept is neither original nor necessarily to everyone’s taste, especially if you like your comedy rather cerebral, but I defy anyone to sit straight-faced through this two hour performance without cracking up at all.
If I had a problem, it’s that the comedy is relentless, affording me no chance to recover between laughs and in so doing I probably missed a few spoken and visual gags.
It’s very much an amalgam of such classics as Michael Frayn’s ‘Noises Off’ (no revolving set here but certainly one that seems flimsy enough to fall apart at any given opportunity), ‘Fawlty Towers’ – there were some very Basil-and-Manuel moments – with a touch of Peter Gordon’s ‘Murdered to Death’, a great spoof on the old Agatha Christie murder mystery. Add in a nod to that all-time great sender-up of amdram, Michael Green and his one act plays under the heading of ‘The Art of Course Acting’ and that chandelier moment from ‘Only Fools and Horses’ and you have it.
I’m so glad I was in my seat good and early, or I might have missed the shenanigans before the play even started: the stage manager looking for a missing dog called Winston, the lighting and sound man who has lost his Duran Duran box set of CDs, the head flying off his hammer, even the Mayflower’s very own Press Officer being drafted in to hold the mantelpiece up and a door shut.
It also gave me a chance to read the very amusing programme with its mock rundown of the 1920s murder mystery ‘Murder at Haversham Manor’ and an ‘interview’ with Robert Grove, one of the ‘actors’ (Q: “What has been your best performance to date?” Grove: “Konstatin in ‘The Seagull’. The audience were certainly moved. I mean, they had to be moved, there was a fire drill”).
The clue is in the title so anything that could go wrong did: missing props (or rather the actors’ inability to find them), dropped lines, lost lines, overacting, confetti snowstorms, a mischievous backstage crew, slapstick knockouts, doors/window that wouldn’t open/shut, an errant exploding lift, a swordfight where one sword snapped off at the hilt, a collapsing balcony, even a fight breaking out between a feisty actress and her stand in (the Stage Manager, making a hasty appearance with script to read in and finding the whole experience rather fun).
There were the inevitable entrances/exits through windows, hands through window panes, collapsing furniture and set, white spirit appearing as a replacement for the missing whisky (with predictable results) and other visual/audio gags involving fire exitinguishers, flaky sound effects and a dog chain (Winston’s).
Equally funny were the acting blunders: lines written on hands (so that cyanide becomes pronounced as ‘kyanidee’ for instance), the out of synch dialogue that The Two Ronnies excelled at, the agony when the actors went round in a one page loop and couldn’t get out of it, and an overawed first time ‘actor’ who played to the audience at every opportunity.
Looking around me I realised that it wasn’t just middle aged men who grew up with Monty Python who were laughing, it was everyone of all ages and both genders.
The cast, led by Patrick Warner as Chris Bean, president of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, the ‘director’, and the Inspector, was superb; it may have looked like they were hamming it up (and they were) but it’s clever stuff getting it so wrong deliberately. The dodgy acting and stagecraft were wonderful.
Originally presented by Mischief Theatre as a one act production brought to life by ex LAMDA Drama School students, this comedy masterpiece has gone from strength to strength in the few years it has been around, and rightly so.
The theatre loves to send itself up and none does it better than ‘The Play That Goes Wrong which runs’ at The Mayflower until Saturday 15th. Box office 02380 711811 or mayflower.org.uk.