The Play That Goes Wrong. Photograph by Robert Day
Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome
Performance Date: 26 October 2021
Reviewer: Sophie Mills
Star Rating: ★★★★1/2
Mischief Theatre has made waves in London (and across the globe) for almost a decade so it’s no surprise that The Play That Goes Wrong – an Olivier and Tony Award-winning show is on its fourth UK tour, hitting Birmingham Hippodrome just in time to captivate young audiences this October Half Term.
The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are famed for putting on sub-par productions, but director Chris (Tom Bulpett) is determined for their 1920s murder mystery – The Murder at Haversham Manor – to be a success, especially as for the first time in the society’s history they have sufficient cast numbers for the role. Charles Haversham (Jonathon played by Seán Carey) is found dead in his private quarters of a Haversham manor, putting a spotlight on his brother, Cecil (Max played by Tom Babbage), fiancée, Florence (Sandra played by April Hughes), best friend, Thomas (Robert played by Leonard Cook) and butler, Perkins (Dennis played by Edward Howells). Due to a snowstorm, the only member of the police force available to investigate the case is Inspector Carter (director Chris) and he’s determined to get to the bottom of it.
Unfortunately, as the play’s title suggests, everything that can go wrong simply does go wrong. Set breakages, props missing, cast injuries, sound failures, and forgotten or mispronounced lines are the least of everybody’s problems when there is a dog on the loose somewhere in the theatre required for act two! But always the professionals, the actors on stage maintain composure – mostly – through the production to make it to curtain call, even if it is a painful crawl to get there.
The Play That Goes Wrong features death-defying stunts and is full of physical comedy. Naturally, it’s farcical, but that’s what makes The Play That Goes Wrong so clever and a show like no other on the road. It is laugh after laugh, gag after gag, and it’s worth arriving far before curtain up for a few little treats as a pre-show of sorts. The fourth wall comes down hard and fast thanks to Trevor (Gabriel Paul) before the production kicks off, setting up for a night of hilarity, and this wall is regularly broken down through the show thanks to director Chris’ anger at certain audience member’s disrespect for the art that is his play.
Whilst each character is a caricature of different actors that’s regular theatre-goers will recognise, this is best shown by watching poor Annie (Laura Kirman) – the unsuspecting stagehand who is forced to understudy the role of Florence at not even a moment’s notice. But she quickly overcomes the stage fright and throws herself into the role, not wanting to let the original actress resume her place after returning from being knocked out. Babbage as Max playing Cecil is the physical actor, going all out with movement and never missing a single syllable through the exhaustive choreography. And Hughes as Sandra
The timing is flawless, and the production is as fresh as ever. It can be said that some gags and jokes are a little repetitive but in the throes of The Play That Goes Wrong, this is easily forgiven (even if a few lines are lost amongst the chaos of the pandemonium on stage combined with the audience’s laughter). This is a night at the theatre well worth experiencing for young and old.
Runs until: 30 October 2021