Robert Tanitch reviews The Play That Goes Wrong at Duchess Theatre, London WC2
The title says it all. A Polytechnic Dramatic Society is staging an old-fashioned murder mystery. A door won’t open. A mantelpiece breaks. Pictures fall off the wall. Ceilings collapse. Curtains come down. Props get mislaid. Actors get knocked out. Assistant stage managers have to go on with the script. Everything that can go wrong goes wrong.
The Mischief Theatre’s production is in the same farcical tradition as Shakespeare’s Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Michael Frayn’s Noises Off!
The three writers, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, are in the cast; and the cast, a fine ensemble, directed by Mark Bell, work very hard for their laughs. They manage to sustain the physical gags over two acts. No mean feat, this; though, inevitably, some gags work better than others, and some are overdone.
Some of my favourite moments include Henry Shields weeping away on the chaise longue when he can’t find a vital ledger; David Hearns playing one of those actors who act with the audience rather than the cast; Greg Tannahill making an entrance too early and standing there in full view, filled with shame; and the cast getting into a loop and finding they are repeating the same bit of dialogue over and over again.
Want a good laugh? The Play That Goes Wrong is a perfect farce for the whole family, grandparents, parents and children. There’s not a hint of smut in it.