Tuesday, May 28

The Play That Goes Wrong – Sheffield Lyceum

The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society cordially invites you to enjoy its production of ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’, a witty, dramatic retelling of a classic murder mystery… until it all goes a bit wrong. Disasters with the set, actors who can’t remember their lines, accidents incapacitating members of the company… Nothing goes right for this daring troop of amateur actors.

But we all know that that’s not the real synopsis of this brilliant play.

Mischief Theatre created the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as a vehicle for their particular brand of comedy, with every actor essentially playing two roles: their Cornley persona and then the character played by that persona in the production of the day.

In today’s theatre landscape of nuanced drama and technological wizardry, this kind of physical slapstick comedy could be very out of place; but Mischief Theatre have perfected the art of theatre of this type and by the time the final curtain came down, my sides were hurting from laughing so much. From the scripted one-liners to the physical stunts, and from the costume malfunctions to the exceptionally clever set, this play is the perfect antidote to the current political and socio-economic climate in which we find ourselves.

It would feel wrong to single out any member of the company, because this is ensemble theatre in its truest form. Every single person – on and off the stage – has an essential part to play to make this show work, and it worked perfectly. The precision timing and teamwork required to make these stunts happen safely, night after night, is unfathomable… and then to make sure that it feels natural and improvised, as if we were all seeing it go wrong for the first time… Simply genius!

I do wish I could have been a fly on the wall in the rehearsal process though, because the creativity you need to pull off a show like this is a special kind of magic. A particular mention therefore to original director Mark Bell and tour director Sean Turner, for bringing this magic to the Sheffield stage. One final commendation must go to Nigel Hook who designed the set for this show. It must be hard enough to design a set for a show that doesn’t go wrong, especially one that replicates the challenges faced by amateur dramatic companies up and down the country when they try and put on a 1920s murder mystery in a manor house! But then, to have to build in planned scenery failures, broken floors, and even a lift – yes, really! This is stagecraft at its best.

The thing I loved about the show more than anything else, though, was the fact that – even when absolutely everything was going wrong – the company never lost the thread of the story they were trying to tell. It would have been really easy to put aside the need for incredible acting talent to focus on the comedy, but this group of actors stayed fully and believably committed to finding out who killed Charles Haversham, even in the midst of utter chaos.

Bravo, to the members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, and to their alter egos, the fantastic actors of Mischief Theatre!

The Play That Goes Wrong is in Sheffield until Saturday 16th July, with accessible performances on 14th and 16th July. Information and tickets can be found here:  https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/the-play-that-goes-wrong  

The tour then continues around England until 21st August, with more information here: https://www.mischiefcomedy.com/theplaythatgoeswrong-uk-tour/uk-tour/tour-dates  

The cast helpfully also reminded us that Mischief Theatre is taking three shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, so if you enjoy this one, do look them up in the Festival line up as well: https://mischiefcomedy.com/news/mischief-return-to-their-comedy-roots-at-the-edinburgh-festival-fringe-2022  

Reviewer: Jo Tillotson

Reviewed: 11th July 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★