Transfer of West End farce opens at Lyceum Theatre.
By: Patrick Christiano
The setting is an isolated mansion in a snowstorm with the owner’s corpse in the drawing room, and his killer at large. Enter a bumbling group of actors, who create a manic slapstick whodunit that is relentlessly hysterical, or is it? One thing for sure the London import is relentlessly well performed. The entire ensemble is brilliant as they pull out all the stops in a physical comedy that never lets the air out for a second while delivering a persistent attack on our funny bone.
The show is a big hit in London where it has been running for over two years, and has won several awards including the 2015 Olivier Award for best new comedy. Conceived by a group of graduates from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) calling themselves Mischief Theatre, The Play That Went Wrong makes its American debut with the original West End cast fully intact.
The premise of the comedy is that the play is a farcical play-within-a-play. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is presenting a new vintage-style murder mystery called ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’. At the top of the show when the stage manager attempts to secure a falling mantelpiece, we realize that nothing is going to go as planned, which is exactly what happens as the production crescendos into raucous chaos. Everything possible goes wrong from dropped lines to collapsing sets replete with a series of technical mishaps and cast in-fighting.
Written by three members of the cast, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, the show is in the tradition of British slapstick and owes a huge debt to Michael Frayn’s classic farce, Noises Off, about theatrical mix-ups. The difference being that Noises Off simultaneously showed us what was happening backstage as well as on and was filled with characters you actually-cared about. The effort here is pure slapstick from the very first moment to the eventual fadeout, and over a two hour-plus running time the repetitive conceit becomes preciously thin. The play began as a fringe show in a theater located at a pub, where I am sure with a few drinks and played at half the running time the slight comedy fared much better.
The ensemble however is remarkable at being bad and sublime at performing the outrageous physical comedy. They are Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill, and Nancy Zamit. Director Mark Bell stages the action with impeccable precision allowing us on several occasions to fear for the actor’s safety, while laughing at their plight. Nigel Hook’s flimsy set design that collapses with meticulous timing is a marvel of inventiveness and a technical success.
The Play That Goes Wrong ***
149 West 45th Street
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
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