The Play That Goes Wrong is one of the funniest things you will ever see in theatre. There are so many funny moments that a smile will be etched on your face from start to finish. It is consistently hilarious. It is incredibly witty and full of deadpan humour and physical farce. I hate to say it, but if you don’t enjoy this, there is no hope for you. Period.
The premise of this show is simple. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are putting on a 1920s murder mystery. Yet the simplicity of this idea allows for such complexity of humour, it is a production that becomes a must-see not only once but several times (at least). This is because everything that can go wrong does. Sometimes, so much goes wrong that the stage becomes an arena of mayhem. You can be so busy laughing at one thing that you can completely miss another. But this pandemonium is a huge part of its charm.
Its set very much reminds me of The Mousetrap: the obligatory leather sofa, the fireplace in the corner, draping curtains across a towering window, and a telephone resting on a side table. We are instantly transported into the world of Agatha Christie. Instead of an unfurling murder mystery however, we are presented with what might have been had she written comedy. The “big reveal”, a staple of her books, is subverted in spectacular style within the opening half-hour. It becomes a running joke that works very well, particularly as the story builds toward an altogether different climax.
I really loved the addition of two actors playing the “stage crew”. With Trevor and Cat emblazoned on their black t-shirts, both resembled students on a work experience programme. Their apparent ineptitude at the beginning of the play, putting the finishing touches to a set already showing signs of failure, made for a humorously organic start. At one stage, they roped in a member of the audience to help them, with hilariously unexpected results.
The Play That Goes Wrong has such a diversity of comic conventions that it is little surprise it explodes with humour. The physicality of the performers is extraordinary. To maintain composure and be able to produce such a seemingly-coincidental set of disastrous happenings takes real skill and acute precision. The use of props is unlike anything I’ve seen on stage. The misplacement, mismanagement, and substitution of various items create a wealth of comic situations. Again, it is the simplicity of these props that allows some to be used as recurring devices due to their breadth of comic potential. The personas of the characters are brilliantly excessive. Meg Mortell is fantastic as Sandra, a real diva who desires to dazzle at every opportunity. Alastair Kirton brings a hilarious cheekiness to his rather naïve Max who loves to work the audience a bit too much. And Patrick Warner as lead actor Chris is fantastic at conveying his passion for the profession, and as a result his utter despair when pretty much nothing goes to plan.
For budding thespians, The Play That Goes Wrong is all their nightmares rolled into one. Surely inspired by the best efforts and the terrible experiences of Amateur Dramatic Societies up and down the country, it feels very British both in style and in substance. It conveys in spectacular style the feigned ignorance that is the essence of much British comedy. The idea that when something goes wrong we simply carry on, pretending as if nothing has happened, is portrayed in stark detail here.
The Play That Goes Wrong is a two-hour joy ride that will leave you in stitches. It is side-splittingly funny and should be prescribed on the NHS to anyone who is having a bad day. This will, without doubt, turn anyone’s frown around.
An edited version of a piece originally written as part of the Young Critics scheme.
Featured Image (C) The Play That Goes Wrong