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The Play That Goes Wrong – Review

February 1, 2018

I first came across the phenomenon that is the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society when I saw the Christmas TV specials Peter Pan Goes Wrong and A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong. Those two productions were probably the funniest thing I’d seen on television for years. So, when I heard that the original The Play That Goes Wrong was touring in the UK I eagerly snapped up a ticket. The premise of each play is that the fictional Cornley Polytechnic mount productions which through a combination of incompetence, bad luck, raging theatrical egos and bizarre coincidences invariably go wrong. The fun for the audience is to watch these very amateur actors try and keep it together.

I’m glad to say that this material is as funny, if not more so, onstage as it is on the telly. While audiences members were still taking their seats, the cast engaged in some breaking of the fourth wall. One member of the ‘technical crew’ walks round asking if anyone has seen her dog, while cast and crew members fiddle with a door on the set that just won’t stay shut (this is a set-up for two gags that pay off in spades once the play begins). Then we get an introduction from Chris, director of Cornley Polytechnic and lead actor in The Murder at Haversham Manor (a spoof of Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap). This play within a play has a classic Golden Age Mystery set-up. A dead body is discovered at the eponymous Haversham Manor. An Inspector arrives and everyone at the house (gardener, butler, fiancee to the victim etc.) are murder suspects. This ‘plot’ acts as the springboard for a non-stop series of gags, including slapstick, double entendres and sex farce (one rather fetching member of the cast spends almost the entire second act clad only in her negligee). The amateur thesps struggle to keep the play going as the set quite literally falls apart around them. The Play That Goes Wrong is so gleefully funny and joyfully entertaining that to attempt any critical analysis might take away from its charm, but I will say that the laughs come thick and fast and even moments that don’t seem amusing at first are often just the build-up for big punchlines later on. It features physical comedy which is up there with the best of Chaplin or Buster Keaton, and also nicely sends-up the traditions of the English country house murder mystery. All that remains to be said is go see it. You’ll laugh yourself silly.

I saw The Play That Goes Wrong at Chester’s impressive, and still relatively new Storyhouse theatre. You can find details of the nationwide tour here.

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