The Play That Goes Wrong
by Henry Lewin, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
A Mischief Theatre Production
Directed by Mark Bell
Set Designed by Nigel Hook
Wednesday 1st March 2017, 19.30
Not the full touring cast
Phew … first is the actor. Second their “AmDram persona” third in brackets, their part in Murder at Haversham Manor
Graeme Rooney – Trevor (Lights and Sound)
Katie Bernstein – Annie (Stage manager)
Patrick Warner – Chris Bean (Inspector Carter)
Jason Callender – Jonathan (Charles Haversham)
Edward Judge – Robert (Thomas Colleymore)
Edward Howells – Dennis (Perkins, the butler)
Meg Mortell – Sandra (Florence Colleymore)
Alastair Kirton – Max (Cecil Haversham, Arthur the gardener)
Natasha Culley- Clire Rice (ASM)
Helena Muir – Doris Henderson (ASM)
Matthew Howell – Jimbo Jones (ASM)
I looked for photos online, and it indicates that the touring company differs from the West End cast. You would never know. They have the current cast’s photos in the “spoof” Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society programme. Mischief Theatre now have “The Comedy About A Bank Robber” running in the West End, while The Play That Goes Wrong is on its travels.
View from the RV1 Bus Stop Covent Garden … still running with a different cast
We’ve stood looking at The Play That Goes Wrong aT the RV1 bus stop in Covent Garden many times, reading the adverts outside the Duchess Theatre opposite. Because it was always there, it was a bit like The Mousetrap – we felt no urgency to book a ticket. Then we saw Peter Pan Goes Wrong, a live broadcast at Christmas 2016, and it was so far the best thing on TV in the entire Christmas period. We determined to see The Play That Goes Wrong and off it was on a UK tour, and what a tour it is, stretching from January to August. Start booking as soon as you can … every single seat was sold at Salisbury tonight. Last week it was in my home town, Poole, just 35 miles away from Salisbury, a fact I moaned about driving home in belting rain on the dark and winding road. Salisbury got its season programme out ahead of Poole, so got the booking. It’s in Southampton, also 30 miles away in July. Plays usually just don’t tour to venues which are that close together, but this is hugely popular.
It’s also a very unusual two plays in two days (Amadeus yesterday) where both get five stars from me.
The play that goes wrong is a genre in itself … Pyramus & Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Real Inspector Hound (in a way), Harlequinade, Noises Off, the “Bunbury Players” version of Importance of Being Earnest 2014. On TV it was a staple of Morecambe & Wise, and The Two Ronnies were fond of it. Michael Crawford in Some Mother’s Do Ave Em did it with a nativity play. We did several sketches of plays that go wrong in our shows for language learners, with The Two Ronnies as inspiration. Ronnie Barker did a marvellous sketch as the local butcher who is drafted in after an accident to a cast member and has to read the book. So there is a bowl of fruit and the text was “I feel like a nice pear” but he misinterprets and does it staring at the bosom of the leading lady “I I used to think that someone reading in the part from a book was fiction, but I’ve seen it in three or four prestige professional productions since I started this blog.
I don’t think I’ve heard continuous laughter almost without pause right through a play before. The only criticism is that it never ceases to be funny and full of events. It’s almost relentlessly funny. The comic timing is impeccable. Physical casting for the tour is also excellent … they look even better than the original cast.
This is a 2017 image, unlike the others on line: L to R Annie, the stage manager (Katie Bernstein), Inspector Carter (Patrick Warner), Perkins (Dennis Tyde), Thomas Colleymore (Edward Judge)
The framing device is that the Cornely Polytechnic Drama Society are presenting Murder at Haversham Hall. This is all laid out hilariously in the programme which has that Cornley programme inset within it. The director and star, one “Chris Bean” has twelve credits in the spoof programme. I was lampooned once for managing to credit myself three times in a university production I directed. It happens. Before we go in Trevor (Graeme Rooney). the punky sound and lights guy is going through the foyer looking for the cast dog. Chris Bean (Patrick Walker) is walking around in evening dress as director, producer, and star. It all reminded me so much of the great Mickey O’Donaghue’s New Vic company in the late 80s and early 90s.
It means the credits are convoluted. Everyone has a role as the person performing in the play … their roles in the main programme … then the character they’re playing in Murder at Haversham Hall in the spoof programme.
No plot spoilers here. It’s far too much fun, so I won’r give the jokes away. They excel in the Art of Coarse Acting, Michael Green’s wonderful guide book subtitled How to Wreck An Amateur Dramatic Company.
The number of events mean three very busy ASMs, plus the physical activity requires accomplished understudies. Watch out for the ASM’s T-shirts, left over from previous Cornley reduced cast productions, like Cat and James & The Peach.
Another 2017 image: Thomas Colleymore (Edward Judge), Inspector Carter (Patrick Warner), Perkins (Dennis Tyde)
Let’s simply list the cock up categories achieved:
- Mispronounced word cues from writing on the wrist. A speciality of Perkins the Butler (Edward Howells) who fetchingly has his hair whited at the sides but not the back.
- Reading out stage directions aloud. Perkins again, but also Annie the stage manager, when forced to take over the role of Florence.
- Showing off, waving, grinning out of character, milking applause – Alastair Kirton as Max playing Cecil … wondrously too.
- Dragooned cast member using the book – both Annie and Trevor get pulled in. Trevor most memorably with massive audience calling out.
- The loop dialogue – Patrick Warner, Edward Judge, Katie Bernstein and Edward Howels get locked in the circular situation. You do the dialogue, don’t get the vital punch line, so do it again … and again … and again getting faster and more irate.
- Sticking doors. Great. Even better in Peter Pan Goes Wrong.
- Wrong props, improvised props – throughout
- Set falling, bits of set falling, collapsing set. The final collapsing set echoes Buster Keaton’s silent film masterpiece, Steamboat Bill (and looks as dangerous).
- Shaking walls
- Losing facial hair, then it appearing elsewhere (Alastair Kirton as Arthur the gardener)
- Asides to audience, dropping character (Alastair Kirton)
- Breaking weapons … swords and guns. They do miss the one where one sword gets broken, and the opponent said “Ah! Mine is longer than yours” to which the reply is “It’s not how long it is, it’s what you do with it that counts.” We wrote that in several pantomimes. They didn’t use it here … but in fact, there were almost no crude double entendres.
- Characters rendered unconscious by bits of set.
- Impossible appearance from an unexpected place very soon after exiting.
- Missing essential character (here the dog)
- Eating or drinking something apparently disgusting because you have no other choice.
- The switched dialogue, where characters start doing each others lines and then get them out of sequence so you get the reply, then the question.
I will have missed a few … it is so rich in them.
Highest praise for “dead body” acting from Jason Callender as Jonathan playing Charles Haversham, Meg Morell playing Sandra playing Florence Colleymore and finally Trevor the sound man. Best dead body work I’ve ever seen. I know dead body acting from long experience, and should have a certificate in it. I once dislocated my jaw playing a victim of Count Dracula – I got trodden on during the final fight. (BTW, the doctor sent me straight to a dentist who clicked it back – advice here for coarse actors if you dislocate your jaw, seek a dentist not a doctor. Apparently they’re trained to relocate it).
Still reading it. I love the spoof. Do not fail to buy one if you go to see it.
For example, the ASM “Clire Rice” is, we must assume, a misspelling of Claire. I sympathize. In a production of Richard III at Bournemouth College, I appeared in the programme as “Peter Smith.” Apparently, as it went to press, they all said “What’s Peter’s surname?” and none of them knew. Not even my then girlfriend, which was particularly galling. I had been away for a couple of days. Still, I cut out the review, “Peter Smith is Lord Rivers, and at least he looks good in tights.” Hmm. In retrospect, maybe it was better that they got my name wrong.