Saturday 25 February 2017

The Play That Goes Wrong - Theatre Review

What: The Play That Goes Wrong
When: 22 February - 11 June
Where: The Comedy Theatre
Written by: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields
Directed by: Mark Bell
Composed by: Rob Falconer
Performed by: Darcy Brown, Francine Cain,Adam Dunn, Luke Joslin, George Kemp, James Marlowe, Jordan Prosser, Brooke Satchwell, Nick Simpson-Deeks, Tammy Weller, and Matthew Whitty.
Set by: Nigel Hook
Costumes by: Roberto Surace
Lighting by: Ric Mountjoy

Luke Joslin, Nick Simpson-Deeks, George Kemp and Darcy Brown (falling)

The Play That Goes Wrong is the hot and hilarious West End show which has made it's way to the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne. Sporting an all Australian cast headlined by Satchwell, this production is an exact duplicate of the show which has been wowing English audiences since 2015 and now it is our turn to have a good laugh.

The Play That Goes Wrong is a type of theatre we don't see that much of in Australia anymore. It is an English drawing room melodrama which takes its pedigree from the great 'whodunnit's' of history. Watching it, I was reminded of Charles Ludlam's The Mystery of Irma Vep for those who are more familiar with American theatre. Both plays are satires of the melodrama genre and mystery thrillers played in the style of high farce.

Both plays also rely heavily on the production elements to work as autonomous performers in the play, acting independently and turning the usually reliable into uncontrolled and uncontrollable forces. Add into this chaos understudies who discover the thrill of the limelight (Weller), a corpse which is decidedly undead (Brown), and the curse of the role of Florence Colleymore (Satchwell) and you have a recipe for utter chaos and belly-laughs galore.

The opportunities for laughs do not end there, however. Lewis, Sayer, and Shields have a long history of writing these type of 'shows that go wrong' and they understand the need to break the fourth wall and every other piece of theatre etiquette in existence. The stage crew are decidedly visible and the cast are decidedly un-trained as this community theatre company attempt to stage a show with a full cast and full production for the first time (notwithstanding their previous productions of The Two Sisters, Cat, and James and The Peach).

Bell (director) is highly trained in physical theatre - including being a student of Le Coq - which comes through all the performances. Every movement of every performer is clear and precise and complete as one would expect from this background. In some respects I found this a little irritating because it worked against any sense of climactic build. What you see is what you get right from the first moments of the show. Having said that, the audience were uproariously laughing from that very first moment which was great.

There is nothing subtle about the show. It goes for the hard laughs from the very first moment and everything you think can go wrong does...and quite a bit more indeed! I particularly enjoyed the moment Weller, Simson-Deeks, Kemp, and Joslin got caught in a script loop. It was subtle and an in-joke for those in the trade but with clever direction and overwrought acting (and the malicious application of Turpentine) it became obvious to event the uninitiated and was one moment which really brought the house down.

For the most part the pace was surprisingly slow with every accident telegraphed by long statue tableaus so the audience knew to respond. This was tiresome in the first act but the second rolled along at a ripping pace as the cast tried to get to the end of the play and solve the mystery before everything fell apart around them (literally).

This show is highly contrived and very English (with the actors using English accents as well). It was a lovely stroll down memory lane when all Australian theatre was English and it was a really good laugh as well. Theatre like this is part of our past, but it is nice to revisit it every once in a while and this is about as good an example as you are likely to find.

The Play That Goes Wrong is a good, fun night and a great Autumn thrill. Prepare to laugh until it hurts and then get ready to laugh some more. Great acting and wonderful attention to detail bring this play up out of the ordinary indeed!

4 Stars

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