Since opening at London's Duchess Theatre in 2014, Mischief Theatre's The Play That Goes Wrong has gone from strength to strength in the West End, quickly becoming one of the most popular on stage comedies in recent years. The show has gone on to receive a number of awards, including the Olivier and What's on Stage awards for best new comedy and the Broadway World Award for best new play. It has also recently made the big move to Broadway. With the main idea of the show being a play inside a play as the audience is invited to enjoy a performance by the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, the comedy only grows and grows as more begins to go horribly wrong for the cast and crew of 'Murder at Havisham Manor'.For me one of the most brilliant things about The Play That Goes Wrong is that the humour is based on comedy as it used to be. It is pure slapstick and situation comedy, leaving the audience in stitches and on their feet at the end of the performance. It is a breath of fresh air to see a comedy that does not rely on rude jokes and innuendos to bring the laughter. In turn, this also makes the show more appropriate for an audience of a wider range of ages. In the performance I went to, near to the beginning of the summer holidays, there was both adults and children in the audience and all were laughing along as the play started to go wrong. I think everyone was laughing as the drama society's performance of the serious murder mystery went from one disaster to another and everything began to fall apart… literally.
The performance seems to begin before the official start time, with the crew of the drama society running around on stage and darting through the audience, struggling to piece together the complex set and searching around for missing dog Winston. The audience were already laughing as the stage hands begged for anyone to lend them a dog for the performance and stage manager Annie (Katie Bernstein) called on help from the front row to hold set pieces up as she struggled with duck tape and broken hammers. The official performance begins with an introduction to Chris Bean (Patrick Warner), the president of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, ranting about how amazing the show is going to be in light of other badly received performances by the company. The show produces laughter from the very first moment.
The comedy of the show begins simple, a door failing to open, the person playing the dead body struggling to remain still as the bumbling performers around him stumble and step on his outstretched hand. Yet it builds and builds from these simple beginnings to more disastrous moments including actors being knocked out cold and set pieces completely falling apart. The laughter doesn't stop, with audiences clapping on numerous occasions and rejoicing in the chance to join in with a little bit of panto-esque fun. It amazes me that the cast are able to keep it together and not fall around laughing themselves.
The cast are amazing. Their timing is impeccable and they work together incredibly well to pull of the stunts and all elements of the comedy. I particularly enjoyed Alastair Kirton's performance as Max Bennett playing Cecil Havisham. He had the audience laughing every time he came on stage especially with his bizarre dance moves as he performed his lines for the play. Jason Callender as Jonathon playing Charles Havisham had the audience laughing with a simple nod of his head and the crossing of his arms many a time. I won't say why this was so funny (Spoiler alert). I also loved Katie Bernstein as Annie and Graeme Rooney as Sound technician Trevor, sat in the audience and being pulled up on stage when everything goes wrong.
The set was incredible, appearing simple yet intricately placed to fall apart and react to the disasters on stage. I don't think anyone failed to laugh as the set collapsed one little piece at a time. I can't imagine the work that goes into putting this set together, as it seems a character of the show as a whole, almost appearing to have a mind of it's own making everything more difficult for the cast and crew of the murder mystery play. Act 2 is when the set really comes into it's own, and the way in which the cast reacts to it is amazing.
In conclusion, as someone who often only sees musicals and stays away from the plays, I have to say that I absolutely loved this show. It was funnier than any comedy show on television and I have to admit that I am a sucker for the old style slapstick comedy so this show was an absolute treat for me. It made me laugh and smile from the opening moment to the finale and that is what great theatre can do. I see a long future for The Play That Goes Wrong and Mischief theatre itself, both in London and on Broadway as well as in this touring production.