The Play That Goes Wrong: a terrific slapstick act

This article was commissioned by The Upcoming, where it appeared for the first time.

Photo: Robert Day

Whether lines go missing or scenes fall apart, the show must go on no matter what. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society – the fictitious second name of Mischief Theatre – has taken this maxim so seriously that not even the most disastrous accidents manage to stop them from completing the performance. This embrace of chaos results in a terrific slapstick act, produced by the award-winning Mischief Comedy team.

The theatre company welcomes the audience to a 1920s murder mystery as the owner of Haversham Manor (Elan James) is found dead on the evening of his engagement. A detective (Christ Green) swiftly reaches the crime scene to investigate whom among those present is the culprit. As the suspects are all related to the victim and seemingly have something to hide, the case is not an easy one to crack. Misleading clues appear one after another as the show progresses, while motives remain ambiguous.

The troupe’s ethos, as amusingly declared by Cornley Society’s director, is to proceed with a very serious and committed production. However, even before the curtain officially rises this doesn’t seem to be the case. The technical crew preparing the backdrop does not look well-assembled, giving signs of dysfunctionality as the performance begins. It takes a lot of work to create a successful comedy, but even more praise must go to the creative team and cast who hilariously enact a failing play while appearing effortlessly unrehearsed.

The colourful yet traditional whodunit setting features props that reveal red herrings or are humorously dropped throughout the performance. A couple of long pauses dynamically break the fourth wall, prompting viewers to chime in. These participatory elements – all taking place within a safe distance – entail not only behind the scenes components of the set design but also the music and light controllers. 

The energy emanated by actors – and also the technicians-turned-thespians incorporated in the catastrophic show – is exhilarating. Every character maintains a peculiar personality within and outside their roles. Like a well-oiled machine, they intersect and dramatically support each other in entertaining nonsense.

Especially in these heavy times, there’s no better artistic antidote than a light-hearted production in which everything that is supposed to go right instead goes wrong. The Play That Goes Wrong is unashamedly fun and superb for a family night out. While the production may not be as entertaining for those who are not big fans of physical comedy, it is sure to still evoke an uproar of laughs from all crowds.

- Read the article on The Upcoming -

Dates: 9 December 2020 - 2 May 2021