‘Mischief Theatre’ are an appropriately named company to undertake this master-class in farce. Centred upon Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s hapless attempts to perform The Murder at Haversham Manor, the mischief which ensues is unparalleled by anything on stage at the minute. Although an entirely fictional theatre company – anyone who has experienced amateur theatre will find much familiar in a play in which the set gives one of the greatest performances of all.
The Play that Goes Wrong is belly achingly funny and, whereas some farcical comedies can wear thin with audiences itching for the exits by the interval, this is not the case with this production. The rip-roaring two hours of high octane comedy seems to reach a peak by the interval and one wonders where it could possibly go next. There is however only one place it can go and Mark Bell doesn’t hold back in directing his cast through a series of scrapes and even more ludicrous calamities in the second half. By the final scene one doesn’t know where to look and although some clarity is lost in the anarchy it takes the comedy to another plane.
It is of credit to Bell and his assembled cast that it remains as funny at the start as it does at the end. The strength of the actors is clear as they are convincingly hapless yet their determination for the fictional show to continue regardless made the audience want them to succeed. The difficulty of playing another actor playing a character is made to look effortless by all. It is clear that the cast are not only brave but also well drilled and instinctive as an ensemble. Without the combined talents of this cast in unison, the whole endeavour would collapse as the set frequently does. The slapstick, mispronunciation and various strands of comedy that collide creates a supernova of laughter amongst the audience.
Special mention must go to Nigel Hook, whose attention to detail and mastery of stage mechanics makes the set come alive as though it had a mind of its own. This, in combination with strong direction, means that so much of the comedy is unexpected. The raucous laughter punctuated by gasps and cheers was a rich source of energy for a cast who gave their all for their audience.
There is theatre that makes a political statement and there is theatre that is born to entertain. This is the latter and should not be diminished because of such. As the set fell down, the cast raised the roof; this production is the perfect tonic to the tensions and hostilities of our present time.
The Play that Goes Wrong
Runs 12th-17th March
Image: Robert Day