Sometimes you need to watch something that makes you think differently. Sometimes you need to watch something that resets your moral compass. Sometimes you need to watch something that reinvigorates you, proves you right and gives you back the fight. And sometimes you need to watch something that makes you laugh, with an unadulterated lack of control, verging on cardiac arrest, for the best part of two hours.
The joy and necessity of good, solid entertainment should never, ever be underestimated. I wasn’t sure I was even going to get it from The Play That Goes Wrong (this time). Not because I refuse to follow the hype. I mean an Olivier, a swarm of celebrity fans, transfers, and audiences swearing they hyperventilated because they laughed that much can’t all be wrong. The Mischief Theatre lot must be doing something right. I was more concerned that I couldn’t possibly find it that funny again. I saw it, more than once, when it was Christmas themed above a pub in 2012, in Edinburgh, and at Trafalgar Studios (only a couple of times). I justified my repeated visits because each time it had changed, grown and become new. There were different things to laugh at, to notice, and people I wanted to show it to. To whom I could make ‘I was there at the beginning’ claims. Even so, there comes a point in a girl’s life when she has to take a long hard look in the mirror and say ‘Stop now. Mischief thinks you’re a stalker.’ For that reason, I have never seen it all grown up, in its prime spot on the West End. Just in case I couldn’t see the funny side anymore, I brought along my flatmate. A man who, by his own admission, is emotionless: the ultimate test. Let me say right here and now, I didn’t need a contingency plan; what I needed was some sort of device to de-ache my cheeks.
The Play That Goes Wrong is written by three of its cast (Henry Shields, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Lewis) and works on a series of levels. Mischief is a group of talented actors who are playing a group of disastrously bad actors from the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, who are putting on a murder mystery that, well, goes wrong. Not just a little bit wrong. Continually, unceasingly, riotously wrong. That is what is so fantastically clever about The Play That Goes Wrong, the sheer skill that goes into making something so right look so wrong. There is an incredible balance within it that makes the audience eat out of the palm of their hands, as we cry through uncontrollable laughter. There’s garish farce and clown, as people swing from ceilings, get crushed by falling pieces of set or manage to balance trees, desks and god knows what else, whilst clinging on for dear life to avoid coming down with a collapsing platform. This is balanced by quieter comedy like when the Inspector, who is also the Cornley’s director Chris (Henry Shields), has a full-blown breakdown over a missing prop. He has taken the production seriously from the off, slowly pushed and pushed by its failures until he is buckaroo-d into despair, and his despair is perfect. Not a single comedic beat is missed within the whole thing and they are going at some pace. Every little stroke is on point from Max’s (Dave Hearn) pure joy at being on stage, his face shimmying with pride with every applause. Or Nancy Wallinger’s stage hand turned female lead Annie, who goes from simple innocence to violent attention seeker, carried by audience reaction.
The most impressive aspect of all is that they’ve done it themselves. They wrote a play. They put it on. They made it good. They put it on again. They got it to the West End. And they won an Olivier. Surely, that’s A Younger Theatre in a nutshell. It impresses me and gives me a kick up the arse endlessly, that’s for sure.
In short there is nothing wrong with The Play That Goes Wrong. It’s hard to find anything better than something so brilliant made to look so easy and so disastrous. That which goes wrong is on the audience’s part, not the play’s, as what starts with bubbles of shoulder-shaking laughter descends into severe loss of breath and near (or in some cases actual) incontinence.
The Play That Goes Wrong is playing at the Duchess Theatre until February 2016. For tickets and more information, see The Play That Goes Wrong website.