The Play That Goes Wrong Review

Kings Theatre, Edinburgh – until Sunday 7 November 2021

Reviewed by Ellen Searle


First performed in 2012, the multi award winning The Play That Goes Wrong is a hilarious spoof on what might kindly be called less than professional stagecraft.  Originally directed by Mark Bell, with the mantle picked up here by Sean Turner, it stars the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as it attempts to stage The Murder at Haversham Manor, in the style of the classic 1920s cliché ridden whodunnit.  This provides rich fodder to showcase all that possibly could go wrong in a performance. And to our delight, misplaced props, falling apart sets and fluffed lines are only the beginning of the fun.  

All of us who love the theatre will occasionally have seen things genuinely going wrong on stage, and, more to the point, the attempts by actors and production staff to hide or make good those errors.  The larger than life expressions of this, combined with all the theatrical tropes we could ever hope to see – the charismatically overbearing ‘I am an actor’ character a la the comedy Brian Blessed by Leonard Cook being a particular highlight – are delivered with gusto by this skilled and energetic cast.  The slapstick is of the highest order, with a multitude of pretend errors and accidents, as far as entire set walls falling over and actors being dragged off injured, while their brave colleagues do their valiant best to hold the play and, at times, the actual set together.  All of the cast are to be commended, in particular for their exquisite timing and highly physical on stage horseplay.  Special mention must be made of set designer Nigel Hook, whose expertise plays a huge role in enabling the accidentally on purpose and hugely entertaining stage mishaps to be delivered convincingly and safely.

But what is really clever about this play is the way in which it builds over time.  What initially might feel a little predictable develops layer upon layer into something really special.  The unceasing efforts of the fictional cast to deliver on the old adage that the show must go on endears us to them more and more with each ever more ridiculous disaster.  They say God loves a trier, and it is this aspect, contrasted with the most unsuccessful results, that brings a genuine warmth to proceedings alongside the comedy.  The interval glass of wine may have helped, but my chuckles of the first half grew to guffaws in the second , and by the end I was bent over with the hilarity.  The Play That Goes Wrong is very, very silly and very, very funny. In these troubled times, it is perhaps just what we need.