P.G. Wodehouse meets Panto is the quickest way I can sum up Mischief Theatre’s production of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’. Right from the beginning the cast are seen setting up the stage as the audience filter in drawing a lucky one to hold a few props in place, even with this largely silent background piece the chuckles are already starting to spread around the audience and in turn setting the tone for what’s to come.
With everyone seated out comes Patrick Warner as Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s Director offering a brief a history of the group and some of their previous troubled shows, to say anymore than that on the matter would ruin the delightfully simple yet exceptionally amusing gags delivered by Warner before introducing the Murder at Haversham Manor.
As Warner retreats the curtains open to a lavish set; that also somehow seems not too different to the kind you might see by most amateur drama societies; offering multiple levels and props all round each precisely set up for a gag somewhere down the line. It’s the comparisons to amateur drama that really allows the performance to shine, as mistakes begin to get made, lines forgotten and the props go missing it becomes and all too eerie comparison to anyone who has ever given theatre a go. Bring in Graeme Rooney’s stage manager as he forgets to bring on lights and sounds in time, or bumbles around with the audience looking for his lost Duran Duran CDs. Though he appears very much the brooding tech who’d rather be behind the scenes, he instead comes off as one of the most lovable members of the cast lapping up the limelight from time to time.
I’m happy to say that not a single cast member lets down this ensemble performance each has a role to play; Edward Judge’s Thomas Colleymoore appears very much as the uptight to the book actor, ensuring all lines as delivered exactly as they should be. Never breaking character but also quite unable to deal with mistakes as they come – leading to so beautifully timed pauses. Meanwhile Edward Howells’ Perkins bumbles round the stage as the service man pouring drinks and other necessities, while equally bumbling any words past four syllables. Patrick Warner returns as the Detective eager to crack the case, though more often cracking down on the casts blunders left, right and centre. Not to be undone by the gents Natasha Culley and Katie Bernstein perform a fantastic competitive performance of Florence Colleymoore squabbling over lines, stage time and eventually each other; despite this, both are given ample opportunity to steal the stage which they do time and time again. Though it has to be Alastair Kirton’s Cecil Haversham that really steals the show, initially quite timid he quickly comes to love the attention the audience are giving him, as he ‘Mr Bean’s’ his performance for every extra little laugh and never failing to get any. Jason Callender also plays the victim stealing more than his fair share of laughs; despite the lack of lines; as the cast trample all over him as he ragdolls around the stage.
As we break for the end of the first half, I found myself very much in need of a moment to catch my breath and recover from all the laughter. Though as we return for the second half the shows niggling issues come to light. As the plot continues and the chaos jumps through the roof I found it very difficult to keep up with what was being said on stage, with the pacing being so fast that once I lost the thread of the plot I found it difficult to get back on. All in all though the plot matters little and the jokes are so incredibly well performed, along with perfectly timed that it all comes together as a perfectly knitted performance and a must see.