|THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG|
Drinks are spewed across the stage, actors knocked out by swinging doors. Props aren’t what or where they’re supposed to be, and the set undergoes a violent deconstruction. We’re in the knockabout world of British farce, a genre that the creators of the long-running London hit The Play That Goes Wrong embrace with reckless ardor. The result is two hours of nearly nonstop laughter.
The show arrives on Broadway with its entire original eight-person ensemble, who work together with practiced ease. They’re members of Mischief Theatre, a company created by students from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Three of its stars — Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields — also wrote the play, in which everything can and does go wrong at the Cornley University Drama Society’s opening-night performance of a dusty 1920s mystery called The Murder at Haversham Manor.
The creators owe a debt to Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, the masterpiece of the play-within-the-play disaster drama. But the authors and director Mark Bell milk a lot of fresh and funny material from familiar tropes.
Both acts of this two-hour play begin with a speech/apology from Chris Bean (Shields), the head of the drama society, whose duties on this production range from director to box office manager to playing the inspector. (A program within a program is in the playbill.)
That inspector is called to the manor to investigate the death of Charles Haversham (Greg Tannahill), who proves to be a rather lively corpse. Among the suspects: his fiancee Florence (Charlie Russell), her brother Thomas (Lewis), Charles’s brother Cecil (Dave Hearn) and the butler Perkins (Sayer). But solving the mystery becomes secondary to just getting through the performance. Backstage people like the stage manager (Nancy Zamit) and lighting and sound operator (Rob Falconer) end up in the middle of the action.
What makes this such a standout show is the execution. Comic bits that don’t seemingly have a right to be funny are hearty and hilarious, like Perkins’s frequent mispronunciation of words (see what he does with “cyanide”), a couple of long stretches to get a character to a corded phone and a set piece where a wrong line throws the play into a maddening repeat of the same scene.
And some of it looks really dangerous, especially when a pillar holding up a second-floor overhang get knocked loose, leaving actors sliding and stranded. The only segment that wore thin before it’s time is when the two women battle it out to play Florence by slamming each other around. Surely there are funnier things they could be doing.
Yet there’s nothing too salacious to prevent this from being a family show (even the woman in her underwear is well covered). As one bit of silliness is piled on top of another, The Play That Goes Wrong pokes fun as human failings as much as it does bad theater. We all want to be the stars of our own hit show, but life often deals us as many harsh blows as it does the The Murder at Haversham Manor cast.
By Diane Snyder
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Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill, Nancy Zamit
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/9/2017
149 West 45th Street
New York, NY 10036