Theatre Company: Mischief Theatre
Cast: Patrick Warner, Chris Leask, Katie Bernstein, James Watterson, Edward Howells, Natasha Culley, Graeme Rooney
It is surprisingly difficult to be bad on purpose. It isn’t just about stepping onto stage with a half idea of what your lines are and delivering every line in a cardboard voice. It takes proper comedy timing to be bad for comedic purposes, to hang on just the right side of bad, so the audience are in on the joke. When the set begins caving in on you, you need to be standing at the exact mark, so as things come crashing down from above, the actors aren’t hurt for real. Stage combat training is a must as every door, sword and hanging mantelpiece is used to whack someone on the head. The Play That Goes Wrong might be bad, but god, are they good!
As my opening statement suggests, this is an oxymoron of a play. The premise is surprisingly simple after that: what if a production went totally and utterly wrong? As in so holistically wrong, not one angle of the production went according to plan. Written out of the nightmares of an anxious production manager (so all production managers, then…), The Play That Goes Wrong is exactly that. As director Chris Bean, also giving himself the lead part of the Detective Inspector, puts on a production of an Agatha-esque murder mystery, nothing goes to plan. Almost as soon as the play opens, things go wrong, with the actor playing the dead body, stumbling over the set in the black-out, in his dash to his first position. One of his actors has his lines written on his hand and cannot pronounce anything with more than three syllables. The romantic leads are more concerned with face time with the audience rather than true character development. The Lighting guy is looking for his Duran Duran CD which has been misplaced, hoping it doesn’t pop up in an unexpected place. The production company assumes that we know the drill by now and therefore it is no surprise that things explode into chaos before we have so much as reached for our drinks. Nothing is spared in the mayhem that ensues and it is a credit to the set designers that the ‘faulty’ parts of the production are so well worked into the theatre that they go unnoticed for the entire play. And again, the Play that Goes Wrong has always been a production for the technical prowess. As each part of the set crumbles away, it takes extreme skill to make it fall to pieces in a safe way. By the second act, as the set is reduced to a explosive mess, you are left marvelling at the precision of each calamity.
With a premise such as this, the production company also go that step further into giving us as much for our money as possible. You are getting your money’s worth before you’ve even hit the theatre. As you walk up to the venue, the posters for the play have been hung upside down. In the lobby, the director and production managers are rushing around looking for misplaced props. The program is split into a proper half and a half dedicated to the fictional production. Before the play kicks off, Graeme Mooney is trying desperately to put the last finishing touches to the set. We are laughing uncontrollably and the production company hasn’t even got to the dialogue yet. The writing is top notch as well, the script to Murder at Haversham Manor, the play that is meant to be being put on, ironically poking fun at how far off the beaten track the play has gone. The lead actress is knocked unconscious and the cast have to bravely act out a scene where she has a tantrum and storms off… to a still body. Duologue scenes go entirely to pot, as an actress loses the script and guesses her next line, promptly contradicted by the frustrated retort from her method actor co-star. As everything goes wrong, it is impossible not to fall in love with the characters putting on this production. In some regards, they are the perfect production company, totally dedicated to their craft that as their story literally collapses around them, they remain in character and determined to see this play out to the bitter end. They are made endearing through their commitment to the story. As their lives are put on the line, due to the stage floor tumbling into a potentially fatal angle, you are left impressed that the actors aren’t losing their heads totally, but registering their fear, swallowing down on it and delivering the next line. As the next scene, requires an actor to walk closer to a potential death trap, you are left applauding as he does just that. For the good of the show. If only more actors in theatre shared that dizzy level of commitment.
Final Verdict: Chaos can be just as much fun as dramatic weight. The Mischief Theatre’s second production is just as brilliant as the last, an explosion of mayhem and hilarity.