Review: The Play That Goes Wrong. Nottingham Theatre Royal

The Play That Goes Wrong

Directed by Sean Turner

Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields.

Presented by Mischief Theatre Company

Nottingham Theatre Royal – Touring

Tuesday 24th August – Saturday 28th August

Everyone who has seen The Play That Goes Wrong tells me how much I am going to enjoy it, so I am filled with high hopes as I enter the Nottingham Theatre Royal. As such, it is so pleasing to see the foyer bustling with eager theatregoers.

This is an Olivier Award-winning play which follows on from three previous sold-out tours and a present seven year run in the West End.  It garners an enormous amount of goodwill, so the anticipation is palpable. Post-lockdown, audiences are looking for a boost and that elusive ‘feelgood factor’. I am delighted to say that this production provides both.

The very capable touring cast comprises of Tom Babbage (Max), Tom Bulpett (Chris), Seán Carey (Jonathan), Leonard Cook (Robert), Edward Howells (Dennis), April Hughes (Sandra), Laura Kirman (Annie), Gabriel Paul (Trevor), with understudies – Katie Hitchcock, Damien James, Edi De Melo and Aisha Numah.

There are high jinks even before the play ‘officially’ begins, involving a missing dog and a Duran Duran CD. Who knew that a CD from a 1980’s mega-band might prove an effective ‘plot’ device? Before we know it, the audience are calling out and barking loudly, aided by the inimitable Trevor in his ‘tech box’ replete with pop posters and handy snacks.

As the play begins, we are given to understand that the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is presenting a 1920’s whodunnit, The Murder at Haversham Manor. All the character tropes are there: the butler, the society diva, the aristocratic fiancé, and the taciturn detective. As expected, murder ensues, but so does mayhem, as the characters become caught up in ever more outlandish stunts.

The audience laughs throughout the entire performance, and it never feels forced. Some of my favourite moments are when characters address us directly or sneak in knowing looks. Several set-pieces are pure pantomime and people seem to love that, joining in with gusto and enthusiasm. It soon becomes like a demented Downton Abbey in a warped, period drama multiverse, where breaking the fourth wall comes as standard. 

The set is magnificent. There is so much to take in and it is used with much ingenuity. One knows that stunts have been heavily rehearsed, but it still feels as if there is genuine danger and jeopardy. One false move and it could literally be curtains. As one character loudly proclaims, ‘This set’s a bloody death trap.’ That is what makes The Play That Goes Wrong so exhilarating. Moreover, the obvious enjoyment that flows from the very talented cast spills over for the benefit of all. Physical comedy and farce can be so difficult to pull off successfully; it is done here with consummate ease.

I particularly enjoy the tributes to the golden era of silent movies, all Keystone Cops and Harold Lloyd. Babbage as the play-within-a-play’s ‘Cecil Haversham’ has the audience in the palm of his hand with his expressive facial gestures and physicality. Similarly, Hughes in the role of ‘Florence Colleymore’ has the perfect pout and ‘hysterical episodes’ that are indeed – hysterical.  

The direction by Sean Turner is superb; not just in the handling of the props and the staging, but in the way in which the actors multitask. Furthermore, the pacing and delivery of lines is used with real comic effect. Cook as ‘Thomas Colleymore’ is particularly adept at delivering the killer line at the killer moment, if you’ll pardon the pun. Where other actors might falter, he knows just how long to wait for optimum impact. Similarly, Howells as ‘Perkins’ is a hoot with his mispronunciations.

If you haven’t seen The Play That Goes Wrong, then I would very highly recommend booking your tickets now. Frankly, it would be criminal to miss it.  

Photo credits: Robert Day

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