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"Delightfully funny comedy": The Play That Goes Wrong

Combining visual gags, slapstick, farce, word play, one liners, missed cues and a rather more animated corpse than one would expect, The Play That Goes Wrong does not disappoint. 

The Play That Goes Wrong

As any actor will tell you, “the show must go on” and nowhere is that put more to the test than in The Play That Goes Wrong, a comedy of errors that collates every actor's worst nightmare and throws it at a cast who are determined to carry on regardless.

The show invites Sheffield audiences to the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s latest production, The Murder at Haversham Manor, an Agatha Christie style murder mystery set in the roaring twenties. On a snowy winter night in an isolated mansion, the corpse of Charles Haversham is discovered, and the arrival of Inspector Carter reveals that each of the guests at Haversham’s engagement party has reason to dispatch their host.

But as the characters motives begin to unravel, so does the production, as it soon becomes apparent there are as many props missing as there are cues missed, the set is not quite as well constructed as one would hope, and a badly prepared understudy cannot always steal the limelight from an unconscious lead actress.

The Play That Goes Wrong

This delightfully funny comedy brings together a varied blend of visual gags, slapstick, farce, word play, one liners, missed cues and a rather more animated corpse than one would expect. With some superb and precise comic timing the gags come thick and fast, barely pausing for breath, and all are played with an entirely straight bat and delivered with deadpan accuracy.

The show takes a scattergun approach to the comedy and throws so many (family friendly) jokes at the audience in such rapid success that, while some miss their target, whole thing is so remarkably fast paced that there is always another gag heading your way.

In addition to the physical comedy, there are also some wonderfully written characters who are performing the play within the play. Chris Bean, the (fictional) show’s director, casts himself in the role of Inspector Carter and you can feel his despair as his artistic vision collapses around him and he tries desperately just to make it to the final curtain. Trevor and Annie, the stage hands and unsuspecting understudies, fail to contain the disaster that is unfolding and there is the delightfully excited Max Bennett who can’t believe that he is on stage in front of an audience, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall as he revels in his moments in the spotlight.

Despite a handful of rather shouty and chaotic scenes, especially towards the show’s denouement, the production has a sensible 100-minute runtime, meaning that even if a few of the gags begin to outstay their welcome, the show does not. The ensemble cast all had an opportunity to display their excellent comedic timing and physical dexterity and there was a lot of fun to be had with this production, with a collection of gags that garnered everything from a chuckle to a guffaw, and from a belly laugh to spontaneous applause.

Coupled with that, there was a terrific atmosphere in the Sheffield Lyceum and I was reminded just how enjoyable it is to share a collective comedic experience with an audience in a theatre.

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The Play That Goes Wrong is on at Sheffield Theatres until 16 July 2022.

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