The Play That Goes Wrong

Theater and the City is a column of student-written reviews in the ENGL 400 class taught by Deirdre O’Leary Cunningham.

This week’s entry is by  Caridad Price.

In a world that seems to be crumbling with every step we take, the Olivier-winning group Mischief Theater’s “The Play That Goes Wrong” gives us the welcome comic relief of being able to laugh at a complete and utter fiasco, a catastrophic mess that it is contained and gratefully fictitious.

The Olivier Award winning play, “The Play That Goes Wrong,” is a brilliantly cheesy, cheap version of an Agatha Christie novel and is hilarious as a Will Ferrell movie. The play was originally performed in the Duchess Theater in London and now falls apart 8 times a week at the Lyceum Theater on Broadway with its original casts and creative team.

The audience is quickly informed that the overambitious Cornley University Drama Society has staged a whodunit production and is welcomed by Chris Bean to watch a low budget production of the Murder at Haversham Manor. Prior to his introduction, the audience has already witnessed cast members fixing the unfinished set moments before the play is expected to begin and are asked if they have seen the production’s missing full-grown cocker spaniel.

In order to enjoy this play one must let go of the trepidation that often greets with theater superstitions. Because once the play begins, every failure in theater production ever feared or performed is reenacted within the play.

The dead body refusing to stay dead, at a standstill, the main character mistakenly revealing the big finale multiple times, and the lead actress replaced by the stage hand in a crooked wig and dress thrown over jean overalls. The progressively dismantling stage has only begun to suffer after a smokey elevator breaks down, a snapped wooden beam slowly fails to carry a ledge (filled with actors), broken floor boards smack people unconscious, and the grand curtain collapses.

Throughout the cataclysm of a play, the casts is able to successfully uphold the “show must go on” concept. Everything was timed and convoluted so perfectly well for each mistake to occur, that in a play that was expected to be so predictable, the audience still gasped after every thud, bump, and brutal fall. Audience members shouted out from the balcony and orchestra seats as bodies were literally flung left to right, up and down, and even dropped from scenes here and there, no one knew what to expect.

I can recall a moment when I played the lead role in a murder mystery, the moment I forgot my line and the dead body whispered the line to me. An event that was quite embarrassing and frustrating at the moment is hilarious today.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” highlights everything that possibly could go wrong and has gone wrong in any production ever created. Mischief Theater recreates moments in plays where improvisation is used to hilarious effect, such as when Inspector Carter (Mark Evans) was forced to use a vase filled with flowers as a notepad or the moment the stage director, Annie Twilloil (Ashley Bryant) and Sandra Wilkinson (Amelia McClain) have a literal knockout battle for the spotlight.  Arguably, comedic relief provided by a dramatized murder mystery gone hilariously wrong is exactly what we need today.