A CurtainUp London Review
The Play That Goes Wrong
The Die-rector (Henry Shields) introduces Murder at Haversham Manor from the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society by listing the many past productions which failed to attract a full complement of actors, starting with Chekhov's Two Sisters to the singular musical Le Miserable. A silly sense of humour is a pre-requisite.
The timing of the actors is brilliant as various parts of the set malfunction and the cast manfully try to carry on with the play while trying to prop up collapsing pieces of set. The murder victim, presumed dead is sat on, on the chaise longue, until a stretcher can be commandeered to remove the corpse. What no one has realized is that the stretcher fabric is so rotten that it will not support the weight of a body so he is unceremoniously dropped on the floor.
Another actor playing the butler Perkins (Jonathan Sayer) will mispronounce his words so facade becomes fack-aid and cyanide become Kay-a-need and we puzzle at the meanings. In one scene, the heroine and fiancee of the murder victim, Florence Colleymoore (Charlie Russell) gets her replies out of sync with the questions. Another actor, Max Bennett (Dave Hearn), after receiving spontaneous applause insists on grinning at the audience, self aware and out of role. A female star is knocked out early and, unable to continue, she is replaced by Annie the stage manager (Nancy Wallinger). Both women adopt the exaggerated posing of bad acting and when the first one recovers, they compete to continue the role. The running gags will run and run.
It may look simple but the timing to ensure that something can collapse and near miss without risking injury is complex and skilled. The finale of The Play That Goes Wrong is like that of An Inspector Calls in Daldry's masterful production but with the full cast on stage at the time.
Behind all of these mishaps are the very real situations actors have found themselves in and how they have improvised to ensure the show can go on. The Play That Goes Wrong is an encyclopedic collection of mishaps, miscues, mis-timings and set disasters and a splendid but fairly unsophisticated evening out for everyone who likes to fall about laughing.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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