It’s the grandaddy that launched a juggernaut of disaster theatre. An above the pub fringe show that became a West End and Broadway sensation, The Play That Goes Wrong is now into its seventh year with a slew of award wins and nominations in its wake.
From the moment a hapless stagehand appears pre-show pleading with the audience to be on the lookout for the show’s missing canine performer, before being joined by the ‘director’ Chris Bean (a fabulous Tom Bulpett), apologising to those in the audience who thought they’d booked tickets for ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’, the show lives well and truly up to its name.
We join the members of the infamous Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society to witness their presentation of the 1920s-eque whodunnit, Murder at Haversham Manor. As the players are repeatedly hampered by a buckling set, rogue stage effects and incompetence both front and backstage, the adage ‘the show must go on’ is stretched well and truly beyond reason.
Every stereotypical hiccup you can imagine (and plenty that you couldn’t) is brought to wonderful realization; from missing props and corpses that won’t behave, through to spectacular overacting and desperate improvising to cover the unfolding errors.
The show is a triumph of mental and physical gymnastics as our witless troop try and cope with everything steadily collapsing around their ears, from the leading lady to the scenery.
Even the most obvious of physical gags are pure joys to watch unfold and those that come out of nowhere floor the audience with laughter (as well as usually flattening a cast member). Even after seven years, the adrenaline-fueled tomfoolery feels as fresh as it ever could.
Calling out specific performers feels a bit unfair given that every member of the ensemble uses their characters’ idiosyncrasies to the full, hysterical effect. Leonard Cook (a Mischief veteran), as Robert, is a particular standout aided by his plummy tones and hilarious attempts to remain professional as he reacts to the unfolding chaos.
Similarly, Tom Babbage as the dewy-eyed Max makes the most of the stage, pirouetting his way through his dialogue as well as drawing gales of affectionate laughter with his character’s corpsing and ‘hello mum’ antics.
The undoubted star of the show however is Nigel Hook’s Tony award-winning set design which is the gloriously unreliable lynchpin to tonight’s anarchy, testing our cast’s patience (and the laws of physics) to their limits, and creating the play’s most riotous and jaw-achingly funny moments that simultaneously channel Barnum and Bailey’s three-ring circus and a Buster Keaton movie.
It’s a marvel of a show that condemns every future strait-laced murder mystery to be considered a crushing disappointment if everything goes to plan.
For a show predicated on mishaps and mayhem, the Play that Goes Wrong remains a flawless celebration of pure theatricality. Playing until the 22nd August https://thelowry.com/whats-on/the-play-that-goes-wrong/
Mischief Theatre returns to the Lowry with Groan Ups from Monday 23rd – Saturday 28th August https://thelowry.com/whats-on/groan-ups/
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
Reviewed: 17th August 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★