The Play That Goes Wrong – Civic Theatre, Darlington
Posted by: The Reviews Hub – Yorkshire & North East
Writer: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Director: Mark Bell
Some of you may have been unlucky enough to be in the theatre when things go wrong – a fluffed line, a missed entrance, a prop that misbehaves, or scenery that seems about to collapse (and occasionally does). However in this side splitting play that truly does go wrong, we have all these and more besides, providing you with a loud laughter show by the Mischief Theatre Company.
Even before the play properly starts there’s loud “perilous” music, and a handful of backstage “crew” desperately trying to fix props and put the finishing touches to a failing set. A poor unsuspecting member of the audience is actually pulled up to hold a shelf and a door and sweep the floor. It’s a large room in a country house with painted rows of books in painted bookcases and a picture of a roaring fire in the grate.
As the title suggests, the play depicts an incompetent production staged by the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society – a student production of a fictional murder mystery, ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’.
To achieve maximum comedic effect, the actors have to achieve the task of convincing the audience they are actually amateur thespians prone to novice mistakes.
It was obviously set up to be a shambles, but instead of sitting through a poor murder mystery, with a production which was clearly awful, we got to be in on the joke and party to the farcical goings on.
Everything that can possibly go wrong does. Bits keep falling off the set, so that by the end of the evening it collapses completely. A mistake in the props department means that instead of coloured water for whisky the cast have to make do with white spirit. The snow occasionally billowing in from outside is actually huge chunks of confetti. There’s a mishap with a stretcher so that the corpse of the first murder victim has to try sliding off stage without the audience noticing – and so on and so forth. With some of the stunts looking quite dangerous.
The interaction with the audience was a fabulous part of the production and it extended to a member of the “crew” (Rob Falconer) running around in the bar and auditorium during the interval with a squeaky toy, asking if anybody had seen his dog.
In the first scenes the “corpse” of Charles Haversham (Greg Tannahill) refuses to lay still. The two actresses who ended up playing Florence were hilarious, Charlie Russell gave an over the top performance as the desperate wannabe, and Nancy Wallinger as a stage manager who steals the show, when she is violently infected with the performing bug when standing in for the unconscious lead. The facial expressions of Dave Hearn, playing the gormless Cecil Haversham, who laughed at his own jokes and clapped along with the audience when he did something impressive, deserve a special mention. Playing Inspector Carter (Shields), Thomas Collymore (Lewis) and Perkins (Sayer) the writers have produced perfect characters and how they manage to keep on acting through the show, as it literally falls down around their heads, is a joy to watch.
The constant ridiculousness produces a full on hysterical reaction to the big set-pieces, and the whole the production is so funny, the laughs are so fast you barely have time to come up for air between them all, making it uproariously enjoyable.