Review: The Play That Goes Wrong is full-on comedy at high speed

If you need a pick-me-up, get to the Opera House for a show which reminds you just how great live theatre can be
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Mischief Theatre Ltd. have been creating just that since they formed in 2008, as a group of LAMDA acting graduates performing improvised comedy. 

Since then their work has been performed at Edinburgh Fringe, on tour and in the West End, where this play has gone right and is still playing to packed audiences eight years on. 

Peter Pan Goes Wrong has also been performed in America and worldwide. And you may have also seen The Goes Wrong Show on BBC One. 

So, what started small has gone big – but does it still have what it takes to make audiences laugh at a time when they really need it, given the cost of living crisis and every other bit of bad news which seems to hog the headlines?

Photo: Robert Day

As you enter the auditorium, be prepared for chaos even before the curtain officially goes up. 

A bunch of amateurs are staging Murder at Haversham Manor and everything that could go wrong is going wrong, from a stubborn door to a set that won’t settle down. 

If you sit near the front, you may be asked to help out to get them ready to open which is in about minus five minutes.

If you have seen a creaky old murder mystery on stage or you have enjoyed the Michael Frayn farce within a farce Noises Off, you will kind of know what to expect. 

But this is a knowing spoof of what you have seen before, in a way that the late great Victoria Wood knew the low budget soap opera Crossroads and used it as the basis of her hilarious sketches that made up Acorn Antiques.  

Photo: Robert Day

The really great thing about The Play That Goes Wrong is that it celebrates that spirit of the show must go on, whatever is occurring back stage or on stage – and the original cast has returned for this tour.

Trevor (Rob Falconer), the sound guy, has lost his Duran Duran CD and is slowly losing his mind as he attempts to create magic from his sound desk. 

The director Chris (Henry Shields) speaks directly to the audience in an attempt to placate us as he repeats: “This is not a pantomime.” 

Watching him lose his rag over time reminds you of John Cleese in Fawlty Towers as he is taken to a point of no return, and this actor is totally believable as a man on the edge.

Actor Max Bennett (Dave Hearn) cannot help himself and every time the audience respond to him, he takes a bow and does a turn, stepping out of the play much to the annoyance of his co stars. 

What of the plot within the play within a play? There has been a murder and there is a body but in true farce style, the actor playing the victim is hit by falling pieces of the set and may have to exit stage left.

Throw in a thespian who delivers lines in a serious tone, waiting for a cliffhanger moment (played with relish by the brilliant Henry Lewis) and an actress prone to being knocked out (the excellent Charlie Russell) and you have all ingredients for a rollicking night out. 

Not forgetting Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields (again), and Nancy Zamit as hapless Watson-esque character, alongside a frustrated detective and a shy stagehand – who ends up stepping in for an indisposed leading lady.

Director Mark Bell and Sean Turner know how to amp up the comedy and many audience members on the night I attended do not stop laughing. 

Photo: Robert Day

If you love a good farce and you want your comedy to be athletic and relentless, then this is the play for you. If you prefer some balance, pauses and different emotions, then you may feel a bit frustrated, as this is full-on comedy at high speed. 

It is a tribute to the work of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, as it is reliant on physicality and could almost be played in silence.

As the set collapses and you see this amateurs within a play hang on for dear life, there is something far more clever going on here. 

If we look back at the pandemic when theatres were closed and audiences were stuck at home, behind the scenes performers and creatives were making plans to come back. 

Whatever it took, many of them returned to what they loved and slowly but surely, audiences have come back.

So, as you watch this hapless cast cling on to a chair before it falls to the ground, in-between the guffaws, you are reminded just how great live theatre can be and the sacrifices that were and are made to entertain you. 

And thanks to this brilliant team of performers and creatives, we can all laugh at The Play That Goes Wrong without the aid of Zoom or Teams.

If you need a pick-me-up, get to the Opera House and revel in a farce which takes place on Quay Street. It beats watching the one in Downing Street and it is far funnier.

The Play That Goes Wrong is at the Opera House until Saturday 4th June and tickets can be booked here.

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