THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Kenny Wax Ltd and Stage Presence in association with David Atkins Enterprises and ABA International Touring present the Mischief Theatre Production at the Roslyn Packer Theatre, 6-23 April 2017.
This theatrical phenomenon’s history is as exhausting and breathtaking as the show itself. It started out in 2012 as a one-act fringe show at the Old Red Lion in north London. It was a huge hit and transferred to the West End in 2013 at the Trafalgar Studios (once known as the fabled Whitehall Theatre of Farce) and then to the Duchess Theatre in the autumn of 2014, where it remains.
Meanwhile it’s spawned a national touring company in the UK, as well as this Australian tour and it’s just opened on Broadway where it’s received yet more rapturous reviews, except from the New York Times’s Ben Brantley who saw it in London and adored it, but has now changed his mind, somewhat!
Meanwhile again, The Play That Goes Wrong has been translated and licensed for production in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Scandinavia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Turkey and Uruguay. And an English cast takes it to New Zealand later this year. Phew.
Why has it captured the public (and critical) imagination to such an extent? First of all, it’s very clever, although not nearly as clever as Noises Off and Fawlty Towers, with which it’s most often compared. It’s very (very) funny, although stretching it to two hours, with interval is probably at its outer limits. And it’s dazzlingly well done in the grand tradition of physical comedy and farce: all technique and timing rather than any attempt at deep and meaningful performance.
Secondly, however, it’s the antidote to the zeitgeist in much the same way as the Ziegfeld Follies were to the 1930s Depression. When the world has turned to shite and people are scared to wake up in the morning and uncertain about what the day has in store, there is nothing like getting lost for a couple of hours in pure, unadulterated laughter and slapstick mayhem. And in this instance, you get to watch a bunch of people whose world is immeasurably more chaotic and awful than yours will ever be. What’s not to love?
The setting is one of theatre’s favourites: a bunch of actors performing a show and everything going wrong. In this instance it’s the impoverished but incredibly keen members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and their latest production, a 1920s melodrama, The Murder at Haversham Manor. The fun begins in the foyer and continues in the auditorium with an audience member dragooned to help hold up a bit of the set. It only gets better/worse from there with a spectacular cast of nine Australians and one Brit: Luke Joslin, Brooke Satchwell, Francine Cain, Adam Dunn, James Marlowe, Darcy Brown, George Kemp, Jordan Prosser, Nick Simpson-Deeks, Tammy Weller and Matthew Whitty.
On opening night in Sydney the pace was unrelenting and the action as fine-tuned as an expensive engine, although they could do with a bit less volume. Whether one was supposed to be able to hear and understand what was being said some of the time is moot: there’s not a moment to work it out before the next crackpot disaster happens.
“This set is a bloody deathtrap," wails “the stage manager” and you don’t need to be Chekhov to work out that most aspects of the beautifully detailed “Manor” will indeed conspire to fail during the evening. The performances too are exercises in disaster and resilience, the detail and love of physical comedy evident in every moment for each performer.
If you want serious dra-mah, please don’t go and ruin it for everyone else. Otherwise, it’s incontinence pads au-go-go and prepare to LOL, you won’t regret it. Recommended.