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shikhartalwar
1st June 2022

Review: The Play That Goes Wrong

Deputy News Editor Shikhar Talwar reviews The Play That Goes Wrong at Manchester Opera House – starring the play’s original cast, who have joined the tour for a fortnight
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Review: The Play That Goes Wrong
Photo: Robert Day.

The Play That Goes Wrong… goes right.

Produced by Mischief Theatre Company and written by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer, The Play that Goes Wrong premiered in 2012.

A play within a play, it follows a fictional theatre company called “Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society” putting on a play – a whodunnit called ‘Murder at Haversham Manor’. They are a society with an extremely reduced number of participants, and this is meant to be their biggest show. However, as the name of the play suggests – it goes wrong.

From the start to the end, you see the entire set break down and be put back up again. There is a weird sense of chaotic fun in the set just falling apart in front of you.

Honestly, it just represents a chaotic child’s mind, who at some point must have asked the question, “what if the set just breaks?”

The actors then have to deal with the broken set. They walk around on tip-toes to act as if the whodunnit is still the serious play it is meant to be. However, the actual play was never meant to be serious.

All in all, the set was amazing. The audience was watching nothing short of a poetic and well-choreographed set, with its own personality. This was by far the biggest strength of the play.

Honestly, the set designer, Nigel Hook, has done an outstanding job. In 2017, the play won him the Tony Award for “Best Scenic Design of a Play”.

Yet, another strength of the play was the audience. Ranging from both the interaction that the actors had with the audience as well as the overall enthusiasm that the audience had for the play.

Even before the play formally started, you had the actors interacting with the audience, looking for something that has been lost. If you sit in the front, you may be asked to help put up duct tape to keep the set from breaking.

The play saw actors forget their lines and even some getting hit by the set and left unconscious. They left the audience confused. On purpose. And the audience was just moving along for the ride.

Henry Shields, who wrote the actual play, stars as the director of the whodunnit: Chris Bean. Chris is playing Inspector Carter in the whodunnit (did I mention the intentional confusion?).

Shields, too, acknowledged that the audience was extremely into the play. At the end, he said that this was the most enthusiastic audience that he had ever witnessed.

This made for amazing moments within the play. For example, Chris broke down in the first half shouting at the audience to stop laughing. Chris was annoyed at how much the audience was interacting with all that went wrong.

He shouted, “This is not a Pantomime!” An audience member, in the most unapologetic fashion, reacted to that by saying, “Let’s make him cry!”

Dave Hearn, hands down, got the best out of the audience. Hearn played Max Bennett, who was extremely excited when the audience was interacting with him.

Bennett, who in turn was playing Cecil Haversham, the brother of the person murdered, as well as Arthur the gardener. He clapped when the audience clapped and re-enacted the parts where he would get an audience reaction – and most importantly, he got the audience to chant for him. These are all things that you don’t tend to see happen during a play. He did all of this while maintaining a certain level of surprise, almost saying, “Oh, I can act.”

All in all, the audience, and more specifically what the play got out of the audience, was entertaining in itself.

Another thing to mention is the direction. The original director was Mark Bell, however, on tour, they are being directed by Sean Turner. Both are extremely experienced directors. Both deserve credit.

The timing of all the jokes and the mishaps added to the overall experience. Every single thing seemed like it was perfectly choreographed.

However, one thing that the play lacked in both the direction and the acting was the surprise aspect of it. Occasionally, they would have too long of a pause, and the actor’s surprise of seeing their play being undone felt a little off.  They also occasionally overdid the same joke and made it repetitive.

Another point of criticism I have is the props. Not that they were too underwhelming, but that they weren’t underwhelming enough.

For example, in an adaptation of this play that I saw in Mumbai – by a renowned Bollywood actor Sharman Joshi – they hammered home the point that the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society did not have funding.

Both plays have snow being shown with someone throwing paper from a bucket. However, in Joshi’s adaptation, they wrote “snow” on the bucket and made snow out of what seemed like blank paper. In this play, the bucket did not appear till the end, and the snow was – for some odd reason – glittery. Hence, to me, it felt like they left out some jokes that their other adaptations have been able to take forward.

Nonetheless, these are small points of criticism in an amazingly well-done play. From the acting to the writing, the directing, the set and so much more, the play was amazing.

It truly shows why this play has been successful on the West End and Broadway. This original deserves the awards and recognition that they have gotten for this play.

If you wish to watch an extremely physical comedy, with a rather slapstick nature, where the actors try hopelessly to hold onto a sinking ship, where the audience is excited and overjoyed to view it – then I’d recommend you watch this play. What could go wrong?

The Play That Goes Wrong plays at Manchester Opera House from 30th May until 4th June, before playing at Theatre Royal Newcastle from 6th until 11th June. The tour cast then return for the remainder of the UK tour, which runs until August.

Please note, the full cast will not perform all dates. Charlie Russell performs Monday, Friday and Saturday evening performances, whilst Nancy Zamit will not perform on Friday 3rd June, and Henry Shields will not perform on Thursday 9th Jun (2PM matinee).

Shikhar Talwar

Shikhar Talwar

Hello! I am the MMG News Producer. My job is to ensure collaboration between all 3 wings of MMG, namely Mancunion, Fuse TV and Fuse FM. I also write for the news section at the Mancunion, with topics ranging from elections to protests.

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