Theatre Review: The Play That Goes Wrong, Duchess Theatre

I’m always slightly dubious of comedies. I think this is probably because they’re actually harder to master than tragedies. I mean it’s pretty obvious if the audience sit stony faced in silence that your joke has fallen flat.

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Mischief Theatre Company have chosen to tackle an even more difficult genre than straight up comedy: “deliberately dreadful drama” (FT). The art of this is to convince the audience that the collapsing walls, unconscious actresses and badly placed props are all the result of disastrous misfortune when in fact, of course they are the result of endless rehearsals and clever set design. This is meta-theatre at its most complex and effective.  And all in all, they got it pretty spot on. Posing as the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society performing a murder mystery play entitled ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’, the cast’s battle to stay true to the plot despite the onslaught of mishaps and casualties was very amusing. My laughter was somewhat contained compared to my surrounding spectators whose sides were dangerously close to literally splitting at the sides, but nevertheless it made me smile, chortle and occasionally snort. At times it verges on the absurd and predictable, but it’s pleasantly enjoyable and stress-free to know what’s coming next – the definition of easy watching.

Nigel Hook’s set design is fantastically unreliable, falling apart at the seams just at the right moment (how coincidental!) and the cast’s performances are all very strong or rather, appropriately weak in the case of the only actress who is knocked out and replaced by a “stage hand” reading the script out of a book. Dave Hearn stands out as the smiling idiot who gets carried away by the applause as does Henry Shields (one of the plays co-writers alongside Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer) as the apologetic, deadpan director come inspector.

The Play That Goes Wrong

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The joke does tire but thankfully by that time there’s an interval – a chance to step back into solemn, comfortable reality – and when the bell rings you’re ready to enter back into the hilarity of it all.

It’s well worth seeing and Friday’s probably the best night for it after a few post work drinks to loosen up the facial muscles.

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