The Play That Goes Wrong, currently running at the Old Red Lion Theatre, is brought to you by Mischief Theatre – a prodigiously talented bunch of actors with a penchant for comedy.
The set-up is straightforward and enjoyable: a group of amateur actors present to you their latest production – Murder at Haversham Manor – a god-awful whodunit period piece. Despite their best efforts, everything that can possibly go wrong does go wrong. And frequently.
The Play That Goes Wrong will prove an intoxicating blend of hilarity/embarrassment most especially for anyone who’s ever been involved in amateur with a capital ‘A’ theatre (cards on the table: I have). It’s almost as if Mischief Theatre have taken a scientific study of amateur theatre groups and concentrated all of its absurdities, mistakes and petty squabbles, and translated them into an hour-long piece of hilarious physical comedy and pure farce that will give nightmares to anyone who’s suffered a similar fate.
From the dud cue that sends the actors circling around the same scene (brilliantly achieved here!), to the misplaced props, sticky doors, missed entrances and exits, awry lighting cues, an accidental fire, inappropriate casting and performances: this show includes them all, but manages to bung them together and crank up the drama to an often-absurd degree. It’s endlessly inventive, offering audiences good belly laughs throughout.
The real strength of the show lies in the actors’ capacity for superb physical comedy. Without giving away too much, there’s a moment when an actress (who has naturally enough been accidentally knocked unconscious) has to be removed from the stage ‘without the audience noticing’. Their methods are a high point of this slick production. You’ll marvel too at the audacious use of falling props and flats – it’s like something out of a Charlie Chaplin movie: and one particular heart-in-mouth moment as you fear for the safety of the actors…
Whilst the physical comedy is breathtakingly good, the verbal jokes are rather more hit and miss. But with more jokes and puns per minute than many shows manage in ten, there are enough palpable hits to ensure the text backs up the physical comedy. Remarkably, the actual plot of the whodunit, though of interest to nobody, actually makes sense! There are moments that are a touch repetitive: drinking ‘whisky’, which has been substituted for something else, is hilarious the first time, but suffers diminishing returns thereafter, and rather too much mileage is wrought from misplaced props.
The performances are all excellent and refreshingly unique, though it’s Henry Shields (playing the director who also plays the inspector) who holds it all together. With his tall, lanky frame and moustache, there’s more than a vague whiff of John Cleese’s immortal character Basil Fawlty about him, especially during his neurotic episodes as his beloved production spirals out of his control. Lotti Maddox does an excellent job with the near-impossible task of acting an awful performance, with inappropriate emotions at every turn. Henry Lewis starts the show, and kudos to him for wringing out so many laughs from playing a corpse…
The Play That Goes Wrong is pitched perfectly for an hour’s duration. Any longer may leave the audience a nervous wreck. If physical comedy is your thing, and you enjoy fast and furious absurd farce, you really can’t go wrong here. There’s plenty that goes right in The Play That Goes Wrong.