Take Murphy’s Law – whatever can go wrong, will go wrong – and amplify it’s outcome to the nth degree. That is the quite amusing, sometimes hilarious premise behind the British comedy, The Play That Could Go Wrong. It is opening night for the Cornly University Drama Society’s production of The Murder at Haversham Manor. From the onset, the members of the school’s decidedly amateur cast is undermined in their efforts to entertain by uncooperative scenery, misplaced props, and a corpse that won’t stay dead. As the play progresses all manner of mayhem giddily erupts. Just as you think the turmoil couldn’t get worse it does, again and again.
The playwrights Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sawyer, and Henry Shields – all actors in the show – must have had a grand time coming up with the situations and anarchy portrayed on stage. They have written a stage comedy in the tradition of such other London imports as Noises Off and One Man, Two Guvnors. This show is full of vaudevillian antics, slapstick and a great deal of physical humor.. Question – why can’t American playwrights pen such consistently convulsing shows. There are some very inspired moments that would spoil the fun and merriment if they were revealed. Suffice it to say you will not leave the theater without a smile on your face.
The superb cast successfully portrays a troupe of bumbling, provincial actors and actresses. They butcher the English language, miss their cues, and are literally battered into submission. If I had to spotlight one actor it would be David Hearn. His character Max is self-important and smug within his role. Everytime the audience laughs or applauds he turns his head to the seats with a broad, appreciative smile. At other times he gesticulates wildly, arms flailing about like a pathetic contestant in a game of charades. He is so bad, he’s good. The two women in the cast – Charile Russell as the woeful femme fatale Sandra and Bryony Corrigan (making a superlative Broadway debut) as the overworked stage hand Annie – deliver a master class in stage fighting and pummeling. You feel their pain, albeit in your funny bone.
Mark Bell does a fabulous job directing his cast to be…awful. It can’t be easy guiding the actors and actresses through a purposeful dreadful performance, but he does so with skill and aplomb. In addition, he cleverly weaves into the production a recalcitrant and disintegrating set, flinging bodies, and even an invisible dog.
You get the impression that Scenic Designer Nigel Hook was like a kid on a sugar high when he created the concept for the show. He has gone hog wild in coming up with a set that, by play’s end, literally implodes. On the way to the final destruction he, along with Andrew Johnson’s playful sound design, generate a cornucopia of pandemonium and madness.
Special mention needs to go to the unnamed stage crew (who actually take a bow with the cast at the curtain call). Not only must they stay on their toes throughout the entire two hours of the show, but they have to rebuild the set every day (twice on matinee days). They are the unsung heroes of the production.
The Play That Goes Wrong, a diverting and wacky respite during our topsy-turvy times.