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Theatre Review: The Play That Goes Wrong at Nottingham's Theatre Royal

5 July 17 words: James Walker

…but went wonderfully well.

The Play that Goes Horribly Wrong - photo by Helen Murray

Photo: Helen Murray

Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are touring the country with their latest production, The Murder at Haversham Manor. As you would expect from an am-dram production, things aren’t quite going as planned. As the audience gathers in the foyer, the cast frantically rush around looking for props, immersing us in their panic. As we take our seats, a member of the audience is asked to come up on stage by one of the set technicians to help hold up a mantelpiece which has fallen down. He is immediately put into uncomfortable and compromising positions, an early indication as to what to expect when the play "officially" starts. Once everything is set up and the actors have dispersed, the director (Chris Bean) comes onto the stage and proudly shares information of Cornley Polytechnic’s previous plays, most of which have been run on a shoestring budget and with a minimum cast, such as James and the…Peach.  

The Play That Goes Wrong is a giggle-a-minute farce where everything that can go wrong, does. And some more. The stage collapses at various points, cast constantly injure themselves or lose their clothes, and at one point a Grandfather Clock somehow ends up as an understudy on a Chaise Lounge. To pull off this level of chaos requires perfect comedic timing as well as some superb and innovative choreography. The scene where the inspector (also played by Chris Bean) uses friction from his Makintosh to remove himself from a precarious position was both hilarious and athletically nimble.

The entire cast were impeccable at being useless; hamming it up, gesticulating wildly, and forgetting their lines just when it was most inappropriate. They all had distinct personality types from a moody Scottish sound engineer called Trevor (Graeme Rooney) to the incompetent Dennis (Edward Howells) who has trouble pronouncing words correctly. But a special mention should go to Max (Alistair Kirton) who’s the lovable idiot (a bit like Bertie Wooster) who gets so carried away flirting with the audience he forgets he’s in a play. The catfight between Florence (Sandra Wilkinson) and her Stage Manager (Annie Twilloil) is pretty spectacular too.   

In terms of the plot, I don’t think it really mattered whodunit. This isn’t really a play about murder. It’s about our national love of failure. From Eddie the Eagle to Basil Fawlty, we Brits love people who try hard but are doomed to fail. It’s in our psyche. And we’re spoilt for choice in this award-winning production.

The Play That Goes Wrong is at Nottingham's Theatre Royal until Saturday 7 July 2017.

Theatre Royal website

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