Friday, 4 March 2016

Review: The Play That Goes Wrong - Duchess Theatre

If you’ve been following my blog since the beginning (i.e. hi Mum), you might already know that I initially set up A View from the Balcony to post theatre reviews, but thanks to student and graduate life I don’t get to see anywhere near the amount of shows I would like to review. In fact, my last review is from all the way back in January! So when the lovely people from Stagedoor got in touch and asked if I was around to go and see The Play That Goes Wrong as their guest, I jumped at the chance.

In all honesty, I hadn’t heard much about The Play That Goes Wrong considering that it’s now into its second year at The Duchess Theatre and won a 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s nice to go into a show with almost no preconceptions, as it’s a completely blank slate on which to form opinions that are not in any way shaped by expectations.

The performance begins long before the curtain rises, metaphorically speaking. Two ‘members of stage crew’ run around the stage fixing things on the set and kicking off the laughs with prankster-esque audience participation.

The Play That Goes Wrong exists as a kind of double-layered narrative, as the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society put on a production of Murder at Haversham Manor, a 1920s murder mystery.

As the lights lower and the leading member of the society, Chris (Harry Kershaw), introduces the play, it becomes apparent that we are being directly addressed as the audience of Cornley Polytechnic’s show, with Chris unenthusiastically reeling off the society’s presumably unsuccessful prior productions. And with this, the play begins and chaos ensues.

It took me a while to warm to the humour enough to laugh out loud, but once I started, I couldn’t stop. In fact, at times the laughter from the audience threatened to drown out the sound of the dialogue on stage.

Although I expected The Play That Goes Wrong to be funny, what amazed me was the concentration and frequency of humour within the script. There isn’t a line or movement that hasn’t been carefully constructed to provoke laughter. And as the action on stage gets more erratic, the laughter only gets louder.

The play contains all kinds of humour, from physical comedy to slapstick, puns, wordplay, situational humour and comic timing to plain stupidity. But the thing I loved most about The Play That Goes Wrong was that it’s not just the mishaps that set up the hilarity, but the fact that you can observe the characters’ traits from beneath their stage act, due to the double-layered narrative. The cast skilfully draw out the personalities of their principal characters so that they are visible through their projected murder mystery personas, adding yet another coating of humour.

The most effective examples were Max’s (James Marlowe) exaggerated hand gestures that dominated his movement whenever he was excited about delivering a long piece of dialogue, Dennis’s (Niall Ransome) embarrassment caused by his inability to pronounce long words, and Chris’s (Harry Kershaw) increasing anger as their play unravels around him. Quite literally.

If you’re looking for an evening of real laugh-out-loud comedy, then The Play That Goes Wrong is definitely the show to book, and having spent the majority of the performance grinning so hard my face hurt, I can definitely see why the play has been nominated for the Audience Award in the Olivier Awards this year!

I would love to know what you thought if you've seen The Play That Goes Wrong, and if there's anything you've seen recently that you would really recommend - let me know in the comments!

*I was gifted my ticket for the show by Stagedoor, but all opinions are entirely my own.


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