The first time I’d heard about Mischief Theatre’s The Play That Goes Wrong was way back in 2015, when I was a part of my collegiate dramatics society and found the premise to be absolutely hilarious (and deeply relatable). It was only six months ago that I watched the show for the first time, managing to catch it just before the new year lockdown forced theatres to shut down once again in the UK. When I got the opportunity to watch the show again this week, this time as a press reviewer, I only had one question on my mind – I knew I was in for a hilarious evening, but would the creative team be able to replicate the same spontaneity and surprise that greeted me the first time around? These two elements are the cornerstone for physical comedy, and doing it night after night requires a delicate balance between ‘controlling’ and ‘letting go’. And that’s precisely what the Goes Wrong team gets right every single time. It’s the discipline and attention to detail in conjuring up its characteristically chaotic style of comedy that has made Mischief Theatre’s work globally renowned.
The premise of this show is based on the popular play-in-a-play structure, where we meet members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, who are attempting to put up their latest whodunnit murder mystery called “The Murder at Haversham Manor”, their most ambitious theatrical endeavour till date. The ‘show’ begins with the discovery of a corpse prompting the arrival of an inspector who launches an investigation into the manor’s residents — the deceased’s brother, the deceased’s fiance, her brother who is also the deceased’s best friend, accompanied by the manor’s staff such as the the loyal butler, the peculiar gardener among others — each a homage to the typical character archetype the audience is familiar with whilst engaging with murder mystery narratives. It’s this familiarity and predictability with which the Goes Wrong team plays with, hilariously highlighting each character’s absurd motivations and intentions whilst still being self-referential to the play-within-a-play facade being set up. To establish the larger world of its amateur drama society, we also have a stressed stage manager and an aloof sound operator running about whose interaction with the “actors” make for a hilariously disastrous evening as the production starts to go wrong with missed cues, personal rivalries, malfunctioning equipment, acting tropes, missing props, neurotic creatives and most visibly, the actual set that threatens to fall apart.
Each performer is adept at wringing their character’s eccentricities to the full whilst still portraying the insecurities and dilemmas of the “actor” they are playing. The team’s focus on movement-led comedy stands out, with a number of physical gags and on-stage accidents that highlight its play-within-a-play setup, delighting especially those who are familiar with rehearsal room where things start to go wrong. What’s equally refreshing is the team’s willingness to improvise and allude to present happenings — such as a subtle nod to the delayed production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella and more spontaneously, acknowledging a technical snag in the 22nd July’s show with an actual technical staff manager announcing the show would be halted briefly. The incorporation of a crumbling set and malfunctioning stage equipment highlights the evenings drama even more, as these are cleverly manufactured to shock the audience into questioning what is “planned” and what is actually going wrong with the show.
To summarise, The Play That Goes Wrong is a delightfully mischievous and deliriously funny rendition of theatrical misadventures. Sometimes the audience is ‘in’ on what’s happening whilst in others, they are surprised behind their wildest imaginations. In a year that’s been incredibly tough for the theatre industry, Mischief Theatre’s comedy of errors is precisely what the audience needs to return back to venues for a rib-tickling night out to the West end.
You can watch The Play That Goes Wrong in London at the Duchess Theatre WC2B 5LA or catch its UK-wide touring run. Learn more and buy tickets at https://mischiefcomedy.com/our-work/the-play-that-goes-wrong/about
Reviewer: Gaurav Singh Nijjer
Reviewed: 22nd July 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★