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The Play That Goes Wrong

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 


The Play That Goes Wrong

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors

Odds on, the Mischief Theatre Company's production of The Play That Goes Wrong at the Lyceum Theatre is the most accident-prone production on Broadway, and you'll love every minute of mayhem.

Outrageous with collapsing props, melodramatic acting, and missed cues, this Olivier Award-winning play-within-a-play ropes you in as soon as you take your seat.  Cast members dash on and off the stage confronting audience members, criticizing their dress, fiddling with props that won't work.  The lighting sound and lighting operator, Trevor, work-weary and bored, shows growing impatience as curtain time nears with so much left to do before he must move to his tech spot in the balcony.  In this midst of chaos, we're in for a deliciously nutty few hours.

On stage, a plucky troupe from the Cornley University Drama Society is supposedly performing The Murder at Haversham Manor, a typical 1920's British murder mystery, sort of Agatha Christie visits Fawlty Towers.  Opening with a corpse on a sofa, the play has no aims toward intellectual or character depth.  This mystery is not going for laughs but is seriously trying to tell a murder mystery story in the face of unfortunate debacles by an inexperienced cast.  This is what makes it so funny for the audience.

The set by Nigel Hook is flawlessly designed to loosen its screws and fall apart at meticulously timed moments and the pitiful troupe just tries to keep calm and carry on, battling one mishap after another.  Gag sights tumble over each other and so do many of the performers.   Physical comedy shines, and characters recoup their lines and keep going, directed with audacious spirit by Mark Bell.

And yes, the plot wanders and by the end, there is some repetition but not enough to stop the laughs. The performers are spot-on in their loopy characterizations.  Watch as the corpse (Greg Tannahill), gets a tad fidgety lying deathly still and follow his sweet, simple brother, Max (Dave Hearn), turning to the audience with goofy grins, having no idea of the fourth wall.  Florence (Charlie Russell), the corpse's fiancée, lovely in Roberto Surace's sleek period costumes overdoes all the most expressive poses.  From his perch in the balcony, Ron Falconer's Trevor is often caught listening to Duran Duran instead of tending to his sound and light duties.    

At one point, when Florence is knocked out, a shy, inexperienced stagehand, Annie (Nancy Zamit), is dragged in to replace her, script in hand, and after some glitches, Annie somewhat pulls it off.  Wouldn't you know it that as the play goes on, Annie finds she actually likes being the lead and does not want to give it up after Florence is revived? 

The three writer-actors of The Play That Goes Wrong also step in as characters.  Henry Shields plays the impatient and pretentious Inspector Carter, in fine John Cleese-style.  Jonathan Sayer shines as the butler, Dennis, who lacerates words and Henry Lewis plays husky Robert, an actor in the troupe. 

The secret behind this apparently out-of-control stage production gone crazy is that nothing is out-of-control.  The timing is precise and the approach deliberate -- the slapstick, the Cornley University Drama Society's  ineptitude, and the insanely collapsing upper level.  It would not work without the meticulous timing that makes everything run smoothly as it falls apart.  Yes, it could have been snipped here and there, but if you are up for a good-time catastrophe, The Play That Goes Wrong is just right.

The Play That Goes Wrong
Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45 Street, NYC
Previews: Mar. 9, 2017.  Opening: Apr. 2, 2017. Closing: Open run
Running time: 2hrs. One intermission.
Cast: Matthew Cavendish, Bryony Corrigan, Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill and Nancy Zamit. The cast also includes Jonathan Fielding and Amelia McClain.
Playwright: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
Director: Mark Bell

Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors
April 2017

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