The Play That Goes Wrong – Manchester Opera House

Thanks to The Goes Wrong Show, Mischief Comedy have now become household names. They’ve achieved profound success over the years, winning several Olivier Awards for their theatrical productions. They also served a slice of normality when the country was locked down, with their ingenius Mischief Movie Night In.

When I say that Mischief Comedy got me through lockdown, I’m not exaggerating. Giving me something to look forward to each week and providing laughter throughout the pandemic was invaluable to my mental health. But crucially, they also forged a strong sense of community amongst their fans at a time when we were all cut off from each other.

Therefore, the chance to watch the original company perform The Play That Goes Wrong at Manchester’s Opera House was an opportunity that I couldn’t miss, even though I have already seen it twice before.

Cornley Polytechnic Society perform The Murder at Haversham Manor in The Play That Goes Wrong at Manchester's Opera House
Cornley Polytechnic perform ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’. Picture Credit – Robert Day.

In typical Mischief fashion, The Play That Goes Wrong playfully mixes physical slapstick comedy with amusing dialogue, as jokes are delivered at a relentless pace. When the fictitious amateurs, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society stage their latest production, ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’, everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

From intentionally hammy acting, actors getting their lines wrong, parts of the set falling down,  and cast injuries, this play capitalises on the conventions of farcical comedy and delivers a thoroughly entertaining evening. Even before the play begins, the fourth wall is instantly broken and comedy ensues, as the cast look around the auditorium for their missing cast member, a dog named Winston.

Throughout the play, the fourth wall is repeatedly broken as the play’s ‘director’, Chris Bean, interacts with the audience, firstly by introducing the play and after the interval, he apologetically explains to the audience that they may have noticed “one or two mistakes“. Played by the brilliant Henry Shields, Chris Bean becomes more and more irate as things continue to go wrong, very much in the style of John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty.

Rob Falconer also amusingly breaks the fourth wall, playing Duran Duran fan, Trevor, the ‘lighting and sound operator’,  who physically sits in the audience at his sound desk. At the risk of revealing any spoilers, he also gets his job entirely wrong.

Cornley Polytechnic Society perform The Murder at Haversham Manor in The Play That Goes Wrong at Manchester's Opera House
Cornley Polytechnic perform ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’. Picture Credit – Robert Day.

The Play That Goes Wrong is already a hilarious play, but having the original company involved raises the bar further, elevating the comedy in ways that touring casts don’t. Even though this was the third time I have seen it, and I knew exactly what was going to happen, it was by far the funniest. This is entirely down to how the original cast breathe new life into it, and have made these characters their own over the years.

Jonathan Sayer’s Dennis forgets more lines than usual, David Hearn completely ups Max’s trademark ridiculous overacting and his appreciation of the audience’s applause, even joining in whenever the audience clapped at a particularly funny sequence, much to Chris Bean’s annoyance. The hilarious rivalry between Nancy Zamit’s Annie and Charlie Russell’s Sandra is raised to another level, becoming more violent than I’ve ever seen it.

Greg Tannahill gets more laughs out of a dead body than ever, but it is seeing Henry Lewis on stage as ‘leading actor’ Robert Grove that is the biggest treat for me. Nobody can play this role better. With his unique vocal register, nobody can match the way Lewis delivers his lines to maximum comic effect; “Good God, I needed that”. He really does prove why in The Goes Wrong Show, his character has released a book called ‘Anything You Can Act, I Can Act Louder’.

Cornley Polytechnic Society perform The Murder at Haversham Manor in The Play That Goes Wrong at Manchester's Opera House
Henry Lewis’ Robert Grove and Jonathan Sayer’s Dennis. Picture Credit Robert Day.

From start to finish, The Play That Goes Wrong is expertly choreographed and comically timed to absolute perfection. Its frenetic pace is exhausting and it gets even more relentless as The Murder at Haversham Manor hurtles towards calamity. The more that goes wrong, the funnier it gets, as the characters get even more exasperated, desperately trying to cover their mistakes. The sheer physical exertion and stamina of every member of the cast is inspirational.

The Play That Goes Wrong won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. It is preposterously silly and gets even more absurd as the play continues. It is heavily reliant on slapstick comedy, which smacks of Charlie Chaplin or Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther films. It is a conventional farce, which may not appeal to everybody.

However, I had a great time watching this play for the third time. It is still the funniest play I have ever seen. It is absolutely hilarious and thoroughly entertaining. My ribs and face ached from laughing so much, and seeing the original company on stage was a real delight.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

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