It’s hard to say when the play itself actually starts. Whilst the ticket start time was 7.30pm, the actors could be seen asking those enjoying a pre-show drink in the bar if they had seen a dog on the loose, and scouring the audience in the auditorium, creating the uneasy feeling that one of us was destined to be singled out for our own stage debut. The bar staff and stewards too were in on the act, interacting with the cast as they beckoned and called.
The audience was made aware of the society’s supposed past cock-ups during the prelude, thus setting up expectations for what was to come...
The accident-prone cast didn’t dissapoint, performing hilarious staged improvisation in moments of crisis and never failing to continue in the midst of absolute disaster. Throughout the play the actors cleverly delivered each line of the script with timing, tone and volume engineered for optimum dramatic effect, earning well-deserved laughter from the audience. The actor playing ‘Cecil' gained the audience’s affection with his coy reaction to applause, which saw him break character and put his own hands together. Such moments exposed the multi-layered character make-up on stage: an actor playing an actor, acting in a play. The audience is sat somewhere in-between the layers, making them curiously part of the action.
From stage directions making their way into the audible script and giggle-worthy pronunciation faux pas to the set literally falling apart, everything was timed to precision, and on this the play gets top marks. The crescendo of mistakes and repercussions culminated in the same frenetic activity seen in the 2006 Royal National Theatre performance of The Alchemist. Whilst here the characters scrambled to transform into their various costumes and connecting personalities, ready to dupe the next unsuspecting victim at the door, the cast of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ frantically try to keep the play alive despite the odds against them.
For me, ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ teeters on the edge of genius and the slightly unrealised. Here is something which does exactly what it says on the tin, yet there is something a little disappointing about it. I was all too aware of the mistakes to come, which made them somewhat predictable; naturally there was no surprise when the play went wrong. What the play gains in humour it looses entirely in spontaneity and authenticity, making the laughter seem at times a little forced.
Perhaps the Mischief Theatre Company’s other show, ‘Lights, Camera, Improvise’, would satisfy my desire for authentic improvisation in a way that ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ did not. Undeniably the mechanics were all in place to provide a high quality slapstick comedy, however very little is left to the imagination with the literality of the name deducting from its potential. Had the play been called Murder at Faversham Manor we would have lost a character layer, but potentially gained a little intrigue and surprise.
Verdict: Extremely clever and worth a watch, but I think these guys can do even better