The Play That Goes Wrong is a show famous across the country for being downright hilarious – but how funny is it, really?
Well, I had to chance to see it performed by Mischief Theatre at the Theatre Royal in Bath and I was enthralled.
Although I had heard good reports about the play, I’d never seen it before and did no research before going, to avoid any spoilers.
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Needless to say, when stage hand Trevor asked us to look under our seats for a dog called Winston, I wondered what I’d let myself in for.
What the audience received on Tuesday, August 3, was perhaps a more authentic performance than any other.
On arriving at the theatre, we were informed that understudies Aisha Numah and Edi de Melo would be playing Sandra and Chris – two of the main parts.
They performed spectacularly, but it seemed fitting that the evening would begin with this unexpected change.
I was a bit nervous when I went into the auditorium, as I hadn’t been to the theatre since the coronavirus pandemic and I wondered how many people would be wearing masks.
The answer was, most of them – and the ushers used signs at the beginning of the show to encourage people to put them on.
Tom Babbage as Max in The Play That Goes Wrong at Bath’s Theatre Royal
(Image: Robert Day)
But all my worries were forgotten as soon as the show began and I was transported to another world of wordplay, slapstick humour and all-out chaos.
Even before the lights were dimmed, Gabriel Paul as Trevor, and Laura Kirman as stage-hand Annie, kept the audience entertained by trying to fix parts of the set – with little success.
As they whispered to each other, I was fooled into thinking we were really watching some last-minute preparations.
However, the gags soon became more pronounced and I realised this was a clever preamble to the main event.
The theatre then grew dark as Edi de Melo took to the stage as Chris, the play’s “director”. From his first mistake of standing out of the spotlight, I was hooked.
Then when he mentioned it was his “debut” as a director, I started to giggle, because you could tell it would be a baptism of fire for the poor chap.
Laura Kirman as Annie in The Play That Goes Wrong
(Image: Robert Day)
The Play That Goes Wrong also marks Edi’s professional debut as an actor, after learning his trade at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts.
I thought I could detect a parody of Hercule Poirot in his accent and moustache, and sure enough when the curtain lifted my suspicions were confirmed.
The whole show was a skit on Agatha Christie’s murder mysteries and the much-loved “whodunnit”.
As a Christie fan, I was particularly tickled by Leonard Cook’s performance of the pompous aristocrat Thomas Colleymoore.
But he wasn’t playing the toff as himself – that would be too simple – but as the amateur dramatist, Robert, who in turn was playing Thomas.
If you’re confused, don’t worry, I was too. In fact, it took me until the interval to work out why all the actors were playing other actors.
The show depicts members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society in their performance of The Murder at Haversham Manor.
Actors at Mischief Theatre therefore play other actors in a show that is full of mishaps, errors and unqualified disaster.
And in fact, the timing was so wonderfully sharp that the end result was much more clever than if they had done it “properly”.
For example, much of the show revolves around people – like Sandra/Florence Colleymoore – being knocked out, requiring everyone to be in the right place to get it so hilariously wrong.
Ironically, when the play opened with the corpse of Charles Haversham on a chaise longue, the funniest part was how very un-dead he appeared.
Gabriel Paul as Trevor in The Play That Goes Wrong
(Image: Robert Day)
As the show wore on, gags were layered on top of each other, becoming funnier each time, and my giggles turned to guffaws.
At one point I laughed so hard I made a strange wheezing noise and the little girl in front of me turned around in horror.
But I still wasn’t as bad as the gent sitting a few seats down the row, who honked like a goose after every joke.
Edi de Melo as Chris/Inspector Carter kept the pace romping along for most of the show, using his excellent facial expressions to get the adults chortling.
Edward Howells as Dennis/Perkins the butler also did a stellar job and, for me, was the star of the show with his ill-timed entrances, out-of-sync lines and mispronounced words.
Aisha Numah played the 1920s socialite Sandra/Florence to a tee and no one could have predicted the transformation her character underwent in act two.
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Tom Babbage, playing Cornley’s Max as Cecil Haversham, sent all the children in the theatre into fits of giggles with his mimes, grinning asides and slapstick moments.
At times I felt the action became rather slow, with long drawn-out pauses that could have been shortened by a second or two.
However, the protracted silences let your breath back between laughs and made you appreciate the action more when it resumed.
I think a special nod should also go to Nigel Hook, the set designer, for his work on a backdrop that was full of surprises.
In fact, the set was the main character, with all the actors – both literally and figuratively – bouncing off it.
It’s no small wonder that Nigel was nominated for Best Set Design from The Critics’ Outer Circle Award for his work on the scenery.
So, if you have been feeling a little downtrodden, anxious, or just plain sad, The Play That Goes Wrong is guaranteed to drag a laugh out of you.
After what has been a rough year for most of us, this show makes everyday life look like plane sailing, and I would recommend it to anyone who needs a good giggle.
The Play That Goes Wrong concludes at the Theatre Royal in Bath tonight (Saturday, August 7), with shows at 2.30pm and 7.30pm.
Tickets are available to book here.