Halfway through act one of The Play That Goes Wrong, my stomach was aching from laughing so hard. During the interval, a woman told me that her makeup had washed off, because she had been crying with laughter. After the show, walking from the theatre, a woman holding her show programme stopped another woman also holding a programme, and the two of them talked about how funny the performance was. Anyone who has seen The Play That Goes Wrong will be able to understand these reactions, because it is, truly hilarious.
Written and performed by the Mischief Theatre Company, the entire show is a play called A Murder at Haversham Hall, put on by the Cornley Polytechnic Amateur Dramatic Society. And as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong does. The show starts with the director coming on stage to address the audience. He explains how good it is to have a play where there are enough cast members to fill all the roles (making references to previous productions such as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Cat’ or their previous staging of ‘The Lion and the Wardrobe’).
The gags come so thick and fast, with collapsing sets, fumbled lines, cast members being knocked out cold, that it was barely possible to recover from one laughing fit before another one comes along. Greg Tannahill played Jonathan Harris, who in turn played murder victim Charles Haversham, who has to endure people treading on his hand and a stretcher which breaks under his weight, causing him to have to try and slide unobtrusively off the stage, amongst other humiliations, and like the rest of the cast, he was wonderful. Charlie Russell was excellent as a wannabe sex symbol, and the completely inappropriately grief less fiancee of the murder victim. Nancy Wallinger shone in her role as a harassed stage manager, battling valiantly with a falling down set, and eventually being forced to take over one of the main roles. I also loved Dave Hearn, as Max, a young actor who is clearly over-awed at appearing on stage, and Jonathan Sayer as a hammy actor who unsurreptitously checks his hands where he has written words he has trouble pronouncing. Henry Shields and Henry Lewis play Chris – the show’s director who also plays the part of the Inspector sent to investigate the murder, and Robert – who plays an old friend of the murder victim, and they too were terrific. And Rob Falconer, who played Trevor the stage manager, was also superbly funny.
Prior to the show, Nancy Wallinger and Rob Falconer, in their respective characters, can be seen trying in vain to fix the crumbling scenery, and even got an audience member to come on stage to help. During the interval, Rob – as Trevor – ran through the audience looking for a dog named Winston (who makes an extremely non-appearance during the play, but does get to take his curtain call at the end).
Of course, the play that the amateur dramatic company are performing is totally unsubtle, and the terrible acting (which is actually demonstrative of the actual cast’s wonderful talents) doesn’t help, and this all adds to the fun.
The audience at Wolverhampton Grand was rocked with laughter throughout, and everybody left with huge smiles on their faces. I will definitely be looking out for more productions by the Mischief Theatre Company, and urge everybody to try and catch this wonderful show, which is touring before moving back to London’s West End.
Simply wonderful – I loved every minute.
(For more information about the Mischief Theatre Company, please click here.)