The Play That Goes Wrong – Review – Bradford Alhambra Theatre
The Play That Goes Wrong – Review
Bradford Alhambra, June 2018
by David Schuster
As we take our seats it’s already clear that things are not going to plan for Chris Bean, the self-important President of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, and the Director of tonight’s performance of ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’. These very amateur dramatics are the premise of The Play That Goes Wrong. This is a production that ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’: Everything that can go wrong does go wrong, spectacularly and hilariously, continuing at full pelt until the curtain falls on the final scene of devastation.
The rows are filling up in the beautiful Alhambra theatre, but two of the ‘Stage Management team’ are still conspicuously front of house, endeavouring to repair faulty scenery and to track down a lost dog. ‘Stage Manager’ Annie Twilloil, played with wide-eyed naivety by Catherine Dryden, engages someone from the audience to help support a mantelpiece that won’t stay in place.
She then abandons him alone on stage, until capable but easily distracted Sound and Lighting Engineer Trevor (Gabriel Paul), encounters him. Trevor too gets the hapless punter to help out. He spends a full five minutes on stage before being released, to his obvious relief. This is a great ploy; people coming into the auditorium are greeted by the laughter of those already there.
There’s a relatively small cast of seven, but the characters of Annie and Trevor spend as much time in the spotlight as the ‘official’ players, to great comic effect. The actors all make the most of having at least two roles, their Haversham Manor character and their ‘real life’ persona. There’s pompous Chris Bean (Jake Curran), who gives himself no less than 12 credits in ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’ and who wants it to be a success at all costs.
“Ever greater histrionics”
Bobby Hirston too gives a sparkling performance as Max, clearly included into the play by Chris only because his inheritance is funding it. Max keeps grinning inappropriately at the audience, delighting in the applause which drives him to ever greater histrionics. Elena Valentine suffers admirably for her art as Sandra who, having been knocked out by a carelessly opened door, is literally manhandled out of the window in one of the funniest scenes of the whole night.
Inevitably there are some jokes and set-ups that work better than others. However, the beauty of comedy is that different things make different people laugh. There’s one scene where a man at the back of the stalls is laughing so heartily that I’m pretty sure a substantial percentage of the audience are laughing with him, rather than what’s happening on stage.
None of this would work half so well without the (real, unseen) backstage teams. The Haversham Manor set, designed by Nigel Hook, is exceptional. It is never changed throughout the evening but continues to throw up surprises and cleverly orchestrated disasters for the whole show. Hats off as well to Digby Robinson’s Production Management team for the comic timing behind the various scenery failures, explosions and mishaps that pepper the performance.
The Play That Goes Wrong is a simple pleasure, drawing on the heritage of slapstick comedy that has been a winning formula since the days of silent movies and achieving it with great effect. There’s not always a need for a deep intellectual or moral message: Watching things go wrong for other people is just plain funny.