The Play That Goes Wrong – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, May 2018
The prospect of seeing a production laden with Olivier and Tony Awards at Hull New Theatre was one I was greatly looking forward to. The fact that said production is an out-and-out farce – not my usual preferred form of theatrical entertainment – added an extra air of intrigue and anticipation.
The Play That Goes Wrong by the Mischief Theatre company has been playing to packed houses and garnering rave reviews in the West End and on Broadway since its premiere in 2012, and my wife and I have now joined those lucky people who have seen first hand just why that is.
This is physical, slapstick comedy at its finest, and that’s an art form, largely underrated these days, that is one of the hardest to master. The timing of the outstanding cast throughout a highly energetic and frenetic production is exemplary, combined with a set design that is, and needs to be, absolutely spot on.
“Litany of disasters”
The premise is a perfect one for the performers to demonstrate their wonderful talents, as the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society members stage their very own murder mystery evening, entitled Murder at Haversham Manor. Shades of The Mousetrap are apparent in the setting, but the similarity with the slick staging of the Agatha Christie classic just about ends there, as the society’s attempts are doomed from the very start. If you think of everything that could go wrong in an am-dram production, then you are on the right track.
The performers start their work before the traditional curtain is even raised, as those who arrive early enough are treated to the set designers and stage management trying to get everything ready on time, while battling the ‘Maguffin’ problem of a lost dog. If that all sounds chaotic, that’s nothing compared to what ensues. Without revealing any of the specifics of a production that simply has to be seen to be believed, the cast try valiantly to get through their work despite a litany of disasters, including collapsing sets, forgotten lines, missed cues and mislaid props, not to mention one member of the ensemble (brilliantly played by Bobby Hirston) being seemingly more interested in playing up to the audience than in his role on the stage.
This was a breathless production that had the audience in stitches, more so than I’ve seen for anything at Hull New Theatre, and it’s exhausting to watch, never mind for the cast to pull off. But they do. And great credit for that goes to all of the actors, but special mention goes to Jake Curran in his role as Inspector Carter, trying to keep his cool while all else collapses around him, and Catherine Dryden as stagehand Annie, who comes to greater prominence as the play develops.
Drawing on any number of influences in the realm of physical comedy, whether that be the early exponents such as Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, the timeless creation of Basil Fawlty in such episodes as ‘The Kipper and the Corpse’, ‘The Germans’ and ‘Gourmet Night’, or even the more modern farcical episodes of the wonderful Frasier, it’s easy to see how The Play That Goes Wrong has become an international sensation.
The pace seldom slackens, building to a beautifully choreographed and barnstorming ending, and I would urge anyone with an interest in comedy of any sort to get down to Hull New Theatre before Saturday for a treat not to be missed.