Chris Eldon Lee reviews “The Play That Goes Wrong”, which is at Wolverhampton Grand Theatre until Saturday 3rd of May
What on earth is Wolverhampton Grand Theatre thinking of – giving over a whole week to such a hopeless haphazard company and their hackneyed, mindless play?
Well, the Grand knows exactly what it’s doing because “The Play That Goes Wrong” is the most hilarious show booked there for years.
Mischief Theatre’s talented team of exceptionally well-drilled professional actors exhaust themselves presenting the Cornley Polytechnic Amateur Dramatic Society’s latest theatrical disaster “The Murder at Haversham Manor”.
Apparently the brave society has a long history of inadequate shows. Past casting problems have forced them to dramatically downsize their previous work. Luckily we have already missed their landmark productions of “The Two Sisters” and “The Lion and the Wardrobe”, not to mention their slimmed down musical presentation “Cat”. And, due to their limited choice of leading ladies, I’m also glad I never had to review their “Ugly and the Beast”. But I’m jolly glad I saw this show.
Professional actors playing amateurs actors trying to do a show in absolute adversity offers a rich seam of humour – if done with utter conviction like this. Anything that can go wrong does go wrong – with props, plot, and egos all exploding or imploding.
Their storyline uses every Agatha Christie cliché in the book (and a few that aren’t) and, beware, it also naughtily gives away the secret of ‘The Mousetrap’. As in Christie’s classic, it’s a snowy night in a remote manor and already a murder has taken place. Henry Shield’s ‘Dead Body’ is one of the most versatile performances I’ve ever seen. It’s a non-speaking part but he has a great deal to do and his self-propelled exit earned an ovation. If there were a BAFTA for ‘Best Exit’ he’d win it.
Dave Hearn is a hoot as the hopeless amateur actor with a jerking chicken head, a permanent grin and a propensity to applaud himself. And, because of a dangerous door, Charlie Russell and Nancy Wallinger find themselves vying for the leading lady’s part with, as they always say in the blurb, “hilarious consequences”.
The endless physicality of the cast is quite astounding as they throw themselves into their highly innovative slapstick, coping with jammed doors, falling flats and collapsing floors. I’m amazed there isn’t a paramedic on the staff.
They have great fun with words too. Jonathan Sayer plays the illiterate Butler Perkins who’s supposed to be 88 but whose hair is only whitened at the front. For him, things turn “oo-mon-nowse” when a deathly bottle of “sigh-a-niddy” turns up. And of course, there is the forgetfulness, which leads to agonising, circular dialogue as he tries desperately to find the line to break out of the verbal vortex.
I suspect this is a direct pinch from the legendary “Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild Dramatic Society” plays with which, I think it’s safe to say, every amateur actor in the country will be familiar. They also draw mercilessly on Michael Frayn’s wonderful farce “Noises Off”. But this show is so funny, you’ll forgive them anything.
Written down, “The Play That Goes Wrong” probably takes half an hour. But the visual humour and the endless waves of laughter fill an entire evening with mirth.
Catch it before it goes back into the West End but don’t get there too early … or you might have to help them put the set up.
Visit www.grandtheatre.info for bookings & information about Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre