A bunch of amateurs desperately attempt to stage a ‘whodunit’ at their local society and as the title of the play suggests, all will not run to plan. The director of The Murder at Haversham Manor sets the story up, reminding his audience of past productions that were doomed even before curtain up. As amateur groups know only too well, casting can be tricky, as Chris (Henry Shields) discovered in his previous productions of Snow White and the Dwarf and Ugly and the Beast. We’re off to a great start with this Old Red Lion transfer.
From the get-go the ‘actors’ in the murder mystery struggle, skilfully portrayed with glorious comedic timing by the cast of eight. Every actor knows what it’s like when things go wrong on stage, they’ve dreamt this scenario many times over, yet this is a shambles even Dame Judi couldn’t act her way out of.
Let’s be very clear, the play is pure froth – think of it like Acorn Antiques but on acid.
The problem is that there’s too much that goes wrong in The Play That Goes Wrong, and it becomes overly repetitive. It’s a flaw that is expertly handled by director Mark Bell. In fact, his direction is so smart that it is difficult not to revel in real moment’s of theatrical genius.
This farce is at its best when we’re caught off-guard, or in those agonising seconds when we see from afar a disaster waiting to happen. Indeed, the cast give a master class in physical clowning. The best scene is undoubtedly when Dennis (played beautifully by Jonathan Sayer) forgets his line as the butler Perkins, and we’re treated to a farcical merry-go-round until he remembers, which builds to a hilarious climax.
The cast are wonderful, let it be said. Yet it would have been all the more comical if an ageing actress had been cast in the young romantic female role, re-enforcing the amateur set-up.
Let’s be very clear, the play is pure froth – think of it like Acorn Antiques but on acid. It undeniably fizzes along, particularly the first 20 minutes. It’s entertaining.
It’s a real shame then that the play itself does not match the ingenuity of the cast and creatives. This is a play that could be exceptionally clever. The concept is there, but regretfully it falls short. That should not put you off though, especially if you’re in the mood for a good old giggle, there’s no denying the audience at the Trafalgar Studios loved every minute.
*** (3 stars)
Runs until 18th May