Review: The Play That Goes Wrong - Contrived comedy still gets laughs

The Play That Goes Wrong
The Play That Goes Wrong
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IT’LL be alright on the night. That’s what they say, isn’t it? Although, as anyone who has ever stepped onto a stage will tell you, anything that can go wrong will go wrong, and more often than you think.

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FESTIVAL THEATRE, Nicolson Street

And so, cut from the same cloth of such classic theatrical comedies as Michael Green’s The Art of Course Acting plays and Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, we have The Play That Goes Wrong bumbling its way from curtain up to curtain down at the Festival Theatre, all this week.

Indeed the mayhem begins long before the curtain rises as members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society roam the foyer in search of Winston, a canine cast member vital to the plot of the play they are about to perform... and currently AWOL.

That play is an old pot-boiler of a who-dun-it called Murder At Haversham Manor, during which the missing pooch quickly becomes the least of the cast’s worries.

As lines are forgotten, cues are missed and entrances delayed, this ridiculous parody of ‘earnest amateurs’ never misses a trick to get a laugh.

There’s just one problem, once the set has failed for the umpteenth time and the ‘murdered’ body has moved, yet again, or the newest member of the company has looked at his hand for another word he’s sure to mispronounce... those tricks are over-played.

There is nothing funnier than watching a play go wrong; those deliciously illicit occasions when something unexpected happens, forcing the cast to ‘let us in’ as they recover.

An actor corpsing, for example, is a special moment shared by cast and audience as they become complicit in the ongoing suspense of disbelief. These moments are funny by the very nature of their reality.

To set out to recreate that ‘truth’ in scripted form takes a special talent, and while the 12-strong cast must be commended for their incredible physicality, this production feels forced and contrived.

That said, Bobby Hirston is charmingly naive as student Max, who plays Cecil Haversham in the play within a play, and there is an inspired comic turn from Catherine Dryden as stage manager Annie Twilloil.

A couple of set pieces as the mayhem ramps up to an absurd climax in Act Two finally offer genuine reasons to laugh out loud, although for some in the audience, there appeared to have been many all the way through.

Run ends Saturday 17 March