Henry Lewis, Greg Tannahill and Jonathan Sayer. Photo: Alastair Muirr
Reviewed by James Karas
The plot of The Play That Goes Wrong is pretty well summarized in the title and if you are looking for a wild farce you will not be disappointed. Not that there are no gradations in the quality of a farce but this one has everything, well, almost everything, that you would expect in something from that genre.
The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is putting on a play called Murder at Haversham Manor. Yes, you can recall The Mousetrap or any other English mystery that involves a mysterious death in a country house and an investigation by a local inspector.
The play opens with the “director” of Murder apologizing for some understandable mishaps that the Cornley has had due to certain shortages in recent productions. Hence the Three Sisters became Two Sisters and Cats became Cat. The 350 people who came to the theatre expecting to see Mamma Mia! are extended a cordial apology because there was no Mamma Mia!.
As the cast tries (unsuccessfully) to put finishing touches to the stage props of Murder, the curtain opens and we get a dead body on a couch. Charles Haversham (Greg Tannahill) is dead. He is dead on the day of his engagement to Florence (Charlie Russell) who is having an affair with his brother Cecil (Dave Hearn). Perkins (Jonathan Sayer) the butler is upset, Florence’s brother Thomas (Henry Lewis) is perturned and Inspector Carter (Henry Shields) is called to investigate.
All is done in strict accordance with the Guide to Writing a Farce About a Murder Mystery in a Country Home. Pandemonium is unleashed quickly but methodically, pictures fall off walls, doors refuse to open, the stretcher that is to carry the corpse out of the room leaves him behind, and people are struck with doors and knocked down (the people not the doors.)
The physical comedy with some verbal assistance continues at relentless speed. Lines are muffed, Florence is put out of commission and is replaced by the stage manager (Nancy Wallinger) who does not know any of the dialogue and mayhem continues.
The actors are all adept at acting, overacting, clowning around and having the time of their lives. The physicality from pratfalls to acrobatics is endless. The audience seems to enjoy every minute of it. Most of them, in any event.
The problem with this production and the play seems to be lack of discipline and economy. When an actor muffs her lines, they go over the same scene at least four times. It was a good joke in the second turn but after that it is repetitive and progressively unfunny. Knock it off.
Farce depends on timing, momentum and energy and The Play that Goes Wrong has them all including the destruction of almost the entire set, timed with precision. In the end however farce is a matter of taste. For some in the audience, it provided almost continuous laughter. For others, it seemed a bit too obvious and a touch too long even at two hours, including intermission. Some of the humour was enjoyed more by the actors than the audience. Not good.
The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields opened on September 14, 2014 and continues indefinitely at the Duchess Theatre, 3-5 Catherine St. London, England. http://www.theplaythatgoeswrong.com/