A friend of mine once saw an amateur production of King Lear in which a ping-pong ball was used in the scene where Gloucester’s eye is gouged out and flung to the ground.
The Play That Goes Wrong
Grand Opera House
Till Sat May 19
£15.90 – £32.90
Until that point, things had progressed tolerably well. However, all artistic credibility was lost as the bloodied object missed the sand pit placed strategically for a soft landing and bounced across the stage.
In Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s abject Murder At Haversham Manor, things go awry rather earlier.
This is the show we are watching in The Play That Goes Wrong and I can’t remember when I laughed so much during a night at the theatre. Perhaps it was during Noises Off, Michael’s Frayn’s classic farce using a similar play-within-the play format.
A theatrical phenomenon
Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields won an Olivier for The Play That Goes Wrong, the production in question being Murder At Haversham Manor.
During the last four years it has become a theatrical phenomenon on the West End and Broadway. It is humour that travels well as it has already played in more than 20 countries around the world.
Farce has to be pretty good to work throughout an entire evening and this is a tour de force. Everything that could go wrong does so in the Cornley Polytechnic production of Murder at Haversham Manor. Then again, so do a few things that they surely couldn’t fail to get right.
The timing, throughout, is fantastic. As lines are forgotten or delivered in the wrong order, and the scenery crashes all around them (quite spectacularly in the finale) the actors veer between over-reaction and utter failure to talk their way out of the absurdities they face.
Like a TV interview from the other side of the world, there’s always a slight time lapse.
Sometimes the actors plough on regardless, as when actress Sandra Wilkinson, as Florence Colleymore (played by Elena Valentine, if you’re still with me) is stuck in a grandfather clock and they pretend the timepiece is her.
Close to hysteria
On other occasions they are close to hysteria. Jake Curran (as actor Chris Bean, playing Inspector Carter) finds an infinite number of ways of saying/ screaming/ pleading/ begging for “the ledger” when a vital prop has gone missing.
His reaction on seeing it under the sofa is like that of a man who has discovered that his dodgy parachute does work after all. Inevitably, this is the moment when a stage hand appears with another ledger.
At the end of act one, I laughed to the point of feeling slightly queasy, when the actors got in a dreadful loop because of a missed line. The same page of dialogue was repeated several times as the ever more unhinged cast tried to extricate themselves from the mess.
Cock-ups are set up brilliantly with the audience ready to roar at the pay-off as some disaster finally comes to fruition. And why, when watching a good farce, do we always forget that someone is hidden and going to emerge at some point?
The Play That Goes Wrong is a right cleansing laugh, a well-oiled machine that will run and run. It’s unlikely to go wrong at any time soon.
Or go right, for that matter.