Tag Archives: The Play That Goes Wrong

Many Wrongs Make a Right


Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 23rd January, 2017


Those of us involved in live performance in any way will have stories to tell, usually for comic effect, about moments on stage that have gone awry: a prop that wasn’t there, a missed cue, a technical mishap, or even just the hell of being stranded in a scene with a co-star who is less than competent.  Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have gathered all those moments and distilled them into a nightmare – for the actors.  For the audience, it’s a treat.

“Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society” are staging ropey old murder mystery The Murder at Haversham Manor.  Beset from the start by difficulties, they battle on to the bitter end, incurring injury and embarrassment along the way.  Patrick Warner plays director Chris Bean, bringing a touch of Basil Fawlty to his moments of extremis.   He also appears as Inspector Carter – our pleasure comes from seeing his characterisation slip as his desperation and exasperation grow.  Edward Judge is a delight as bombastic Thomas, declaiming in plus fours, while Alistair Kirton shamelessly plays to the gallery every time a bit of posturing receives approval.  Before long he has gained confidence and is gesturing and gesticulating like a semaphore signaller.  Meg Mortell flits around in the ingénue role until a mishap causes her to be replaced by a clueless stage manager who soon becomes violently possessive about her new role.  Jason Callender makes for the most mobile and expressive corpse you will ever see, and Edward Howells’s butler, hopeless at pronunciation, is consistently hilarious.  Add to the mix, Graeme Rooney’s less-than-conscientious lighting and sound operator and the drama that unfolds is not the one the drama society would like us to see.

Instead, the tension comes from watching this talented cast perform feats of physical comedy that are painfully funny.  We cringe at the awfulness of their plight, marvel at the way they get out of situations, and gasp at the surprises that crop up in their path.  Director Mark Bell manages the mania and the descent into chaos, giving us shocks and suspense, both of which we relish.

An unadulterated pleasure to have the chance to see this show as it tours again, but this time I am struck by what it says about us as humans.  The show-must-go-on mentality is a cliché, but beyond the theatre, this play going wrong can also be a metaphor for human endeavour.  Despite what life throws at us, there is a drive to keep things going, to bring order, to adapt and endure, even if it all comes crashing down around us.  It’s what enables us to survive as a species.




Things Fall Apart


Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Wednesday 30th April, 2014


This absolute treat of a show is doing the rounds before its return to the West End and I advise you to catch it while you can. Basically, it’s a performance – or rather an attempt at a performance – of an old-fashioned whodunit, The Murder at Haversham Manor, the kind of creaky, cliché-ridden stuff that still crops up in summer seasons. The performers are members of a cash-strapped, talent-strapped, dramatic society who soldier on doggedly while all around them props go awry, bits of scenery drop off, lines dry up and actors are knocked unconscious. It’s like Noises Off on paint stripper.

The trick with this kind of thing is to keep the surprises coming and for the most part you don’t see what’s coming. When you do, there’s a delicious tension of anticipation and some remarkable feats of physical comedy. The show brings the house down, Buster Keaton style. It requires a lot of skill to perform so badly so well. This highly skilled ensemble reach Les Dawson-on-the-piano peaks of awfulness in their artistic endeavours and dazzle us with their comic timing and invention. You don’t stop laughing from start to finish.

Henry Shields kicks things off with an apologetic kind of pep talk as the show’s director, before returning to portray Inspector Carter. Shields is Basil Fawlty-esque in stature and evidently a genius of some sort.  Jonathan Sayer is a hoot as declaiming butler Perkins who mispronounces key words; Charlie Russell struts and poses in the ingénue role of Florence; and Dave Hearn delights as Cecil whose ridiculous gesticulations are matched by his energetic clumsiness. Greg Tannahill is murder victim Charles who begins the play dead and hardly stops moving about after that.   Nancy Wallinger’s stage manager has to step in and read from a script, growing fiercely possessive of her role and Henry Lewis clings to the set like a drowning man as the deceased’s brother Thomas. The whole cast delights and shines in this hilarious example of teamwork.

Nigel Hook’s set design is the star turn of the piece, and the unfolding chaos is orchestrated to perfection, highlighting the incompetence and panic of the ‘actors’ by director Mark Bell.

Amid the laughter, I wonder what it’s all about. Notions of a crumbling society striving to keep traditions going surface in my mind, but above all this is one of the funniest nights you can spend in a theatre, enjoying a show that celebrates theatricality by exposing all its artifices in bizarre and ridiculous extremes.