The Play that Goes Wrong

Well, the title is certainly on the nose. In the British farce, The Play that Goes Wrong, we watch as the (fictional) Cornley University troupe tries to put on The Murder at Haversham Manor, and, as expected, everything goes wrong.

No doubt taking inspiration from Noises Off (including having a stage manager go on for one of the actors; I imagine The Play that Goes Wrong is what the imagined audience in act two of Noises Off sees), The Play that Goes Wrong delights in its frivolity. As the title of the show within the show suggests, The Murder at Haversham Manor is a murder mystery, and could be a somewhat serious drama, but that's not the point of this, of course.

The point is to be entertained. And watching people mess up or walk into a door or get hit with some flying object is entertaining. I know that's not the most sympathetic take on humor, but slapstick has endured for a reason. Maybe it's schadenfreude. Maybe it's just damn funny.

I can be a somewhat crotchety audience member. I've been to plenty of shows during which my fellow audience members are hollowing with laughter and I have a straight face. The Play that Goes Wrong is laugh–out–loud funny, even for me. Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields (the three men also perform in the play) have taken the British farce baton and sprinted with it, and they are aided, no doubt by Mark Bell's expert direction. (Comedy, especially farce, can go so wrong so quickly. It takes methodical plotting and precision. The company succeeds.)

Kudos to the cast, all whom have imbued the actors they're playing with distinct characteristics. Dave Hearn's Max, for example, plays two characters in Murder..., yet as each character we see Max as the green actor who loves mugging. Shields is effective as Chris Bean, the university drama society's president, and Murder's director. You can see the program within a program for a full list of Chris Bean's contributions to Murder...; one of them is as an actor, and it's great fun to watch Chris simmer every time something goes wrong (which is almost all the time). And Nancy Zamit and Charlie Russell ham it up as the stage manager-turned actor and leading lady, respectively.

I like serious, hefty plays just as much as the next guy (see me thrilling over Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, for example), but sometimes, especially these days, you just want to laugh. What's wrong with that?


Special shoutout to members of the creative team—scenic designer Nigel Hook; lighting designer Ric Mountjoy; sound designer Andrew Johnson; production stage manager Matt DiCarlo; and the terrific carpenters, prop masters, and stage hands not named in the program—who made this show work.

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