The Play That Goes Wrong

The old showbiz adage that “the show must go on” is usually invoked—in the aftermath of some behind-the-scenes calamity—before curtain-up, but the point of The Play That Goes Wrong is that the cast of this “Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society” production literally keep going—increasingly frantically, though not without displaying physical and verbal dexterity—when things start going awry after the curtain goes up. They’ve started, so they’ll damn well finish!

The Play That Goes Wrong certainly lives up to its name.

The Play That Goes Wrong certainly lives up to its name. Temperamental lighting and sound operator Trevor Watson (a brilliant Graeme Rooney) is forced to ask incoming audience members to check under their seats for a missing terrier answering to the name of Winston (along with his Duran Duran CD boxset which has also gone astray, probably coincidentally). The set—a country manor house sitting room, with raised platform stage left representing the library—isn’t finished either, much to the annoyance of stage manager Annie Twilloil (Katie Bernstein) who calls upon a tall member of the audience to help out.

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. 

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

Fawlty Towers meets Noises Off in this multi-award-winning West End smash hit comedy. The Comley Polytechnic Drama Society are putting on a 1920s murder mystery but, as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong... does! As the accident prone thesps battle on against all the odds to reach their final curtain call, hilarious results ensue!

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