“The Play That Goes Wrong” is now at The Festival Theatre Edinburgh for one week only (Mon 12 to Sat 17 March), and judging from the full theatre tonight (on all available levels), this play is doing nothing wrong at all.
“The Play That Goes Wrong” from Mischief Theatre is one of the great theatrical success stories of recent years, winning many major theatrical awards and scoring huge hits on The West End and Broadway stages. Directed by Mark Bell and written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, this very Shakespearean concept of a play within a play invites us to watch in "disbelief" as “The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society” are putting on a 1920s murder mystery “The Murder at Haversham Manor”. Anyone who has ever been involved in amateur dramatics (even just reviewing them) will find so many elements here that they recognise for good or bad.
I have to admit here early in this review that I don’t review a lot of comedy in any year as often the results can be far from funny as comedy requires a very specific touch from everyone involved, but this show has been getting such rave reviews everywhere it goes that I had to make an exception to my comedy rule and see it for myself. As I write this review I still have some mixed thoughts about this performance. There are some really funny lines here, some great visual and timing laughs, but some are only funny the first time and for me a bit over-used to the point that they lose any effectiveness. Some of the lines and gags coming up are at times predictable, but delivered so well. Some comedy elements though for some reason just failed to hit their target with me. Having said that though, I have to admit to being in a minority much of the time as I have not heard an audience laugh so much for so long at any performance for a very long time. Sometimes you have to admit that some elements are just not to your personal taste and that the show is more than hitting the target with many other people around you. This is still a classic work of comedy theatre that has its place alongside many of the stage classics of yesteryear.
Adding to the general mayhem and misdirection of the show is of course the programme and the cast listings. Our programme lists a fictional programme for our fictional “The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society” that gives the names of the characters of their performance of “The Murder at Haversham Manor”, and the actors playing them. Our cast list for “The Play That Goes Wrong” lists the actors’ names playing the parts in the other play…all very confusing to this reviewer writing too early in the morning.
What is undeniable about this production is that it is timed to perfection. Everything is a mixture of an old Brian Rix farce merged into the sight gags of classic silent cinema years of films by Laurel & Hardy, Harold Lloyd and all those Max Sennett films. The clever use of blurring the performance lines between stage and audience space works well here too. Bringing the whole thing to life is our appropriately “over the top” and often deliberately out of time cast that includes Kazeem Tosin Amore, Elena Valentine, David Kristopher Brown, Catherine Dryden, Steven Rostance, Gabriel Paul and Jake Curran giving some classic comedy performances
There is a non-credited cast member here though, and that is the stage set itself. Set designer Nigel Hook has done an amazing piece of work here with a very technical set that has to work perfectly every performance to not only create many of the visual gags, but to also keep everyone on stage safe at all times. It is so easy to forget on a show like this that this is not only comedy acting and timing from our cast, but also a carefully choreographed performance that requires them to be in exactly the right time and place for visual effects – particularly when large parts of the set are falling around them. There is an unseen crew behind the scenes making sure everything goes to timing and plan, and they deserve credit here too.
If you like sight gags, comedy farce, old silent cinema and rapid fire lines, or even want to relive your old terrors of some amateur dramatic society moments then this show will probably appeal to you.
Review by Tom King