There is always room in life for a good laugh. But these days, living in what I call a parallel universe where the government is a barrel of rabid monkeys led by a carnival barker, laughter is essential. And I have the perfect remedy for you – go see this play. There is NOTHING wrong with The Play That Goes Wrong. Unless you got something against laughing.
Co-written by Mischief Theatre company members, this play is now in its third year in London with more goofy productions on the landing strip. The original cast, featuring all of the writers, have been deposited on our shores to save us from thinking about Donald Trump for two hours at a time. They do it by taking Stupid and multiplying it to the 10th degree, mixing in a little Marx Brothers and adding a splash of Monty Python. The mixtures is shaken, not stirred, and served over ice with a twist. The twist being your head.
The play begins before the play begins with the technical crew of the “Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society” making last minute adjustments to the set. This is all very subtle as the worker bees are focused on their various tasks, on occasion looking up to see the audience filing in which means they are running out of time. Doors must be unstuck. Mantle’s reattached. Books taped into place. An audience member is enlisted to help and is briefly marooned on the stage. All of this is to let you know where you are headed.
As prologue to the action we are greeted by the head of the Drama Department at Cornley, Chris Bean (Henry Shields) who apologizes for the mixup with the tickets to Hamilton and regails us with a few choice tidbits from the theatre company’s past. Limited cast had reduced past productions to Two Sisters and Cat. Ergo The Murder at Haversham Manor was a welcomed bit of business as it suited their number perfectly.
As befits a murder mystery there is a body, which, discovered by an early light cue, is very much alive. And so we begin. Charles Haversham (Greg Tannehil) has been murdered on the evening of his engagement to Florence Colleymore (Charlie Russell). It is up to his butler Perkins (Jonathan Sayer), his almost future brother-in-law Thomas Colleymore (Henry Lewis), his brother Cecil Haversham (Dave Hearn) and Inspector Carter (Henry Shields) to figure out whodunit.
The figuring out involves malapropism as well as mis-functioning props. These are a nearly lethal combination when blended with the characters PLAYING the actors (all of whom are listed in the Playbill along with the real actors… just trust me on this one). Each of these well-intentioned people is really no good at being on a stage. But their earnestness and fervor carry them to places of such great height that one can only watch with awe. Floors fall apart, elevators explode, and that mantle – well it never makes it to the second act. Doors are slammed into the people hiding behind them. Bodies are badly handled and must get rid of their own selves. And there is one bit where three people help deliver a phone call that has changed my life.
My only quibbles with this production is that the last ten minutes or so happen so fast with so much falling apart on the stage that the intricate and hilarious story dissolves, along with everything else, before our eyes. What should have been fireworks is more like a fizzle. In addition there is some violent slapstick on this stage that is confined to the two women characters. The men have all the good lines and the women are delegated to fighting like cats. Perhaps in the next production women will sit at the writing table and such old fashioned oversights will be avoided.
Nevertheless – get the thither. Trust me. You need this much laughing.
(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
"There's a wild, redeeming poetry in such anarchy. My audience, for the record, roared as loudly as the crowds at any wrestling match."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"A comedy that comes up short with laughs and overstays its welcome - now that's murder."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"The show is all payoffs and no setups; it's like a stand-up routine consisting only of punch lines."
David Cote for Time Out New York
"It's so ridiculous it makes you feel almost ashamed to love it."
Jesse Green, Vulture
"The actors are very good at being bad and are so daring with the outrageous physical comedy that we often fear for their safety. There's no paucity of wit to the proceedings, and director Mark Bell stages the action with clockwork precision."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"It's clear from the beginning - even before the beginning with its pre-show shtick - that wrong will be just right. But it takes a while before the laughs come at full speed."
Frank Rizzo for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...