old showbiz adage that “the show must go on” is usually invoked—in the
aftermath of some behind-the-scenes calamity—
The Play That Goes Wrong certainly lives up to its name.
The play in question is a seriously minor country house mystery, “Murder at Haversham Manor”, the directorial debut of the Drama Society’s new guiding light Chris Bean (a tall, Basil Fawlty-esque performance by Patrick Warner). This so-called whodunnit has a remarkably small number of suspects, and a convoluted plot which necessarily relies on a lot of last minute explanations to make sense, but that hardly matters—it’s simply the foundation on which a laugh-out-loud succession of theatrical disasters play out, making Rowan Atkinson’s Mr Bean appear to be one of the luckiest men alive in comparison.
Missed sound and lighting cues, malfunctioning sets, misplaced props, variable performances—the childishly stagestruck Max Bennett (Alastair Kirton) is a particular delight, in awe of the theatre space in which they’re performing)—and last minute cast-changes: The Play That Goes Wrong is a hilarious succession of mishaps, many all-too-easily anticipated consequences of earlier misfortunes. No sensible cast of professional actors would ever continue in such a situation, but the delight here is that these Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society players are sufficiently amateur not to know any better, and to keep on going to the bitter end.
If there’s one slight disappointment, it’s that The Play That Goes Wrong includes an interval; some might argue this is a necessary pause for breath, but it comes across as an avoidable stutter which forces the show to restate its case a little too overtly. Like the festive BBC broadcast of this play’s “sequel” Peter Pan Goes Wrong, this particular Play would have benefited from having a straight-forward run from start to destructive finish.