Saturday, August 13

The Play That Goes Wrong – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

If I had to be absolutely honest, Cornley’s Poytechnic Drama Society’s performance of ‘Murder at Havisham Manor’ was about one-star at best, based purely on set design alone, but seeing as even that slowly disintegrated throughout the performance, this rating is dubious at best. You’ll therefore be glad to realise, reader, I was in attendance of Mischief Theatre’s ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’, a carefully crafted physical theatre farce, where, unnervingly, everything that could have possibly gone wrong, did go wrong.

‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ does what it says on the tin. The production framed through the narrative device of Cornley’s Polytechinic Drama Society’s latest production, which, thanks to inept planning and a lack of talent, goes very wrong indeed. It’s ram packed with every kind of humour possible, from farce and prat falls to sophisticated word play. Cue forgotten lines, falling set, dead bodies that wriggle, lovers that can’t bear to embrace, accidental on stage fires, some very hammy performances and missed sound effects. After winning a Fringe First Award in 2010, Mischief Theatre group went from strength to strength, introducing ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’, several TV appearances and a series, not to mention a US Tour. It’s very easy to see how this style of humour is a universal hit.

The evening’s traffic of the stage is undeniable chaos and there is little to no nuance in any of the performances. Thriving on paper thin characterisation and little to no breadth in emotions, a dramaturg might dare suggest that ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ is the Brechtian ideal; we’re watching a play about performing a play in which we are aware all the actors are pretending to be actors. Somehow, this is sublime. Though the play seems it is thriving on a discernible lack of artistic craft, there is one thing for sure, this is as tightly knitted as anything ‘serious’ you’ll see on at the likes of the RSC. It takes a lot of skill to not only to orchestra pandemonium as crazy as this, but also keep a straight face and keep the show running. Therefore, the production’s pace throughout is incredible. Somehow at the end of act one, where the audience’s sides have audibly been well and truly split, there is scope for even more hilarious and often nail bitingly dangerous japes in the second act, that still manage to shock the audience. 

The tight knit ensemble are a wonder, each delivering the supposed amateur cast’s follies and quirks with a flourish. The ‘definitely do not try this’ white spirit gag is the gift that keeps on giving, meanwhile Max’s (Tom Babbage) infectious over the top GCSE-drama inspired delivery as Cecil Haversham leaves the audiences in stitches. April Hughes as Sandra (who grapples with several bags to the head throughout the production) is an utter delight. And for those who are not keen on the physical humour, Edward Howell’s performance as Dennis is a little spark of word-based joy. However, the outright star is Sean Carey as Jonathan who performs Charles Haversham. Evoking old cinematic great such as Sir Norman Wisdom, Carey’s inability to successfully remain dead as a corpse sees him ‘worming’ across the stage and hanging precariously from a beam. For those who prefer their humour on the darker side, it’s physical theatre genius that steals the show.

The Play That Goes Wrong is a marathon. By the end of the production, we’re met with a stage strewn with water, stage blood, broken glass, paper snow and half the set. It’s dangerously over the top, and if your countenance is weak, gag after endless gag can become wearing. But to think like that is to be a kill joy. After theatre-loving audiences have been kept inside for well over a year, a ram packed audience crying with laughter is the tonic to cheer up even the most serious of grownups.

This production runs at the King’s Theatre until Sunday 7th November 2021

Reviewer: Melissa Jones

Reviewed: 2nd November 2021

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★