“This is a serious play! You’re ruining it!” one of the actors yells at the audience, though nothing could be further from the truth. It’s rare to say to say a play does so much right by getting it all wrong – until you watch The Play That Goes Wrong.
Five years ago in November 2012, a little-known theatre company called Mischief Theatre previewed Goes Wrong at The Old Red Lion Club in London, a tiny fringe theatre/pub with a capacity of just 60. A year later the show opened on the West End. Now none other than JJ. Abrams has made his theatre producer debut by taking the show to Broadway, where it opened on the 2nd April 2017 featuring the original cast. The show is still in the West End in London as well as embarking on a UK tour, and will be at Southampton’s very own Mayflower Theatre for a week during the summer.
I was lucky enough to see the production with its original cast a couple of years ago in the West End. The ‘play within a play’ format sees the ‘Cornley Polytechnic Society’ attempting to put on a murder mystery, and as soon as you set foot in the auditorium the madness begins. Many of the characters start flocking around the seats, introducing themselves to the audience and having conversations with each other; at one point I heard a cry from the upper circle where one of the characters was dangling over the handrail shouting down to a fellow cast member about how he is scared of heights. All of the actors specialise in improvisation so if you manage to enter a conversation with one of them, the consequences are truly hilarious. As soon as the play begins you are greeted by the director Chris Bean, played wonderfully by play co-writer Henry Shields. They explain how the society has managed to secure a larger budget this year, before listing off some of the previous productions, which I shall not ruin for you as they are simply brilliant one-liners.
From here on in the coordinated mayhem is a joy to watch. The writing is simply exquisite but a special mention must go to the entire company for their physical humour. At some points, it is so extreme that you wonder how they don’t have to go to A&E after every performance. As most of the play is physical comedy I don’t want to say anymore on the plot of the show – my descriptions will not do justice to the performances given – but when the stage manager exclaims “This set is a bloody death trap!” you have an idea of what’s going to happen next.
Goes Wrong has put the Mischief Theatre company on the map. There have been over 13 productions of this play all over the world, from the West End to Australia and even to Japan and Korea. Physical humour is one of the few things that transcends language, so they’ve really made this a play for the people.
This play is a work of art, and had me hyperventilating and weeping with laughter for the entire of the performance. It is the perfect two-hour relief from life and when you walk out of the theatre it makes you feel just a little bit better about the world. I urge you to see it if you can.
The Play That Goes Wrong is playing at the Mayflower Theatre from 10th to the 15th of July 2017. Book your tickets here.