From disintegrating scenery to endless one-liners, The Play That Goes Wrong at Birmingham’s Alexandra Theatre is packed with laugh-out-loud moments from start to finish. Mischief’s multi award-winning international smash hit makes its welcome return to the city following its previous sell-out success.
As a young, trainee reporter many, many, many years ago I cut my teeth reviewing am-dram productions in and around Redditch … the whole hide-behind-your-hands gamut of forgotten lines, last-minute cast changes and dodgy backdrops. So to see that all brought to life so masterfully in The Play That Goes Wrong brought back countless cringe-worthy memories (no, I’m not mentioning any names here).
With a nod towards The League of Gentlemen‘s Legs Akimbo Theatre Company, Fawlty Towers, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy, as well as a strong influence from Frasier‘s iconic Radio Ham episode, it’s easy to see why this one-time pub performance has become a huge West End and Broadway hit. I mean, what’s not to love about a production that covers everything from fluffed lines to lost props and with a bit of Duran Duran thrown in for good measure.
Even before the play starts, there’s hints of the chaos to come. Trevor, the lighting and sound operator (Gabriel Paul), is mingling amongst the audience on the hunt for Winston the Dog and there’s last minute hammering to hold a collapsing set together. We even wondered if the delayed start was also part of the joke.
What follows is a two-hour showcase in slapstick, one-liners and verbal gymnastics; each actor hugely skilled and never once missing a beat. As a physical, non-stop and rather daft comedy, The Play That Goes Wrong is one of those clever plays within a play that follows the cast of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as they attempt to stage a classic 1920s murder mystery. And yes, given its title, everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
There are moments when Cornley’s Director Chris Bean (Colin Burnicle) has us all feeling sorry for him as he is surrounded by endless mishaps, while the occasional heckles from the audience were greeted with his quick-fire retorts. I enjoyed the in-fighting between Aisha Numah (Florence Colleymore) and Beth Lilly (as Annie) as they competed to play the leading lady; and the comedy timing of Kazeem Tosin Amore (Robert Grove), Edi De Melo (Max), Steven Rostance (Jonathan) and Damien James (as Perkins the butler) was a joy to watch, even if it meant there were moments you were racing to keep up as the action unfolds.
It’s exhausting, for sure. You’re giggling one moment, laughing out loud the next, then feeling slightly nervous as the actors hang off falling scenery, walk into doors or realise props are missing and have to pretend a bunch of flowers and a set of keys are a notepad and pen. However, the cast’s real skill is in proving that bad acting is a talent in itself, and it’s easy to see why The Play That Goes Wrong has been received such mighty gongs as an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and a Tony for Best Scenic Design.
The Play That Goes Wrong runs at The Alexandra Theatre until Sat May 21. Tickets are available here