I’m wildly impressed when I review a show that requires its otherwise talented cast to perform ‘badly’. It must take a great deal of skill and awareness and a distinct lack of taking oneself too seriously to mimic such a notoriously difficult industry. A wonderfully contemporary example is American internet sensation, Colleen Ballinger who has become an international star through turning her talent on its head and acting as tone-deaf, alter-ego, Miranda Sings. This character is, for want of a better description, flipping crazy, and Ballinger does it with such delightful and comical ease. Mischief Theatre, which started out as an improvised comedy group in 2008 and is now one of the country’s leading comedy theatre companies, does just this with a team of professional actors. The Play That Goes Wrong has had a remarkable journey from an idea between friends at drama school to full-on run at a West End theatre but whilst it may come from humble beginnings, nothing about this production is even remotely amateur. It is clear that everything from Mark Bell’s strong direction, Nigel Hook and Ric Mountjoy’s set and lighting respectively, Roberto Surace’s costume (some cracking moments with a wig) and the company’s key ingredient – the actors – are all so beautifully crafted and tightened up to within an inch of their lives. This really is a little treasure and one of the best shows you can presently see in London.
The general premise of The Play That Goes Wrong is as follows: Mischief Theatre is actually the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and it is bringing its latest production, Murder at Haversham Manor to the stage. Trouble is, everything that can go wrong disastrously does – much to our delight. At my visit, prior to starting, a couple of members of the ‘crew’ raced around the front of house area frantically asking the public if they’ve seen a dog or a Duran Duran CD. Now I try and steer clear of crazy in everyday life and that seemed to be the general consensus from those I observed coming into contact with those searching. I don’t think anybody knew who these people initially were, so deep fear circulated much of the theatre. This is quite what to expect from The Play That Goes Wrong. Nothing is what it seems but undoubtedly this is where the magic lies.
The cast are outstanding at being god-awful actors. What’s the most important thing to remember? The show must go on? Well not here. Whilst it continues with catastrophe after catastrophe, each disaster is met with uncomfortable pauses from the characters and death stares at whoever dared to ruin it for the rest of them. Brilliant. Charlie Wilson’s femme fatale, Sandra Wilkinson, is excellent – especially her facial expressions and overly elaborate poses. Nancy Wallinger as her unfortunate replacement is equally spectacular and the pair’s fight (spoiler alert) is genius.
There’s a lot to love here. Everybody on stage is a joy to watch and wow, they kept it together during some cracking scenes. Henry Shields’s take on the police officer is a scene-stealer, as are Henry Lewis’s Robert Grove and Dave Hearn’s moronically endearing ‘character’ unable to stay in ‘character’ (oh the confusion!). It’s strong, talented and hard-working teams like this one that deserve to do well but I fear that audience numbers will rely entirely on word-of-mouth and people like you reading glowing reviews like this one. So tell everyone you know about the gem that is The Play That Goes Wrong.
The Play That Goes Wrong is playing the Duchess Theatre until February 2015. For more information and tickets, see the Play That Goes Wrong website.