Review: The Play That Goes Wrong

Playing at the Comedy Theatre, Melbourne until March 26

The Play That Goes Wrong is genius. Pure and simple. Laugh out loud hilarious from start to finish, this increasingly frenetic British farce starts on a brilliant note and achieves the incredible feat of getting even more riotous as the play goes on (and goes very, very wrong).

A hit on London’s West End stage since its debut in 2012, Australian audiences finally get the chance to check out this two-act comic masterpiece, coincidentally opening in Melbourne the same time that it makes its Broadway debut as well. The brainchild of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, this show plays tribute to the wild British farces of years gone by, specifically the obvious influences seem to be both Fawlty Towers and Noises Off!

The format of The Play That Goes Wrong is that it’s a play within a play. A hapless amateur theatre company, Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, famed for their cheapskate productions such as The Lion and The Wardrobe and James and the Peach, has decided to stage a classic 1920s murder-mystery play – The Murder At Haversham Manor. An awkward introduction from director Chris Bean (Nick Simpson-Deeks), sets the mood perfectly, and for the next two hours, we’re treated to expertly timed slapstick and pratfalls, in which any and every muffed line or awkward mishap that this troupe of actors could possibly make plays out to great effect. The laughs just build and build and things only become more chaotic and frenzied as the play progresses. Special mention must be made of the set, which is just as much a character as any of the actors are. The collapsing and malfunctioning backdrops definitely make for some of the show’s funnier scenes.

The entire cast is flawless. James Marlowe, who was part of the show’s West End run, steals the show as the outrageously overacting Max, going big with his performance and shamelessly mugging to the audience. Darcy Brown, despite playing a dead body for most of the duration, doesn’t let that stop him from getting involved in just as much physical comedy as his co-stars. And Brooke Satchwell is a revelation as the breathy bombshell perfectly embodying the 1920s female archetype and pulling off some spectacular feats of slapstick as the play goes on. Her running battle with a stage hand (Tammy Weller), who takes over and then refuses to give up the role after Satchwell’s accidentally gets knocked unconscious is priceless and one of the show’s highlights. This is the sort of show where comic timing and cast chemistry are more important than anything else, and this cast does everything that could be asked of them and more.

While The Play That Goes Wrong harkens back to an old-fashioned brand of British comedy, the creators truly make this their own and have revived a genre – that some might view as antiquated – in spectacular fashion. While theatre audiences are truly spoilt for choice at the minute in Melbourne, The Play That Goes Wrong is every bit the equal of Kinky Boots and The Book of Mormon in terms of quality and entertainment value.

The Play That Goes Wrong gets things so, so right and it’s a must-see for any fans of slapstick.

The Play That Goes Wrong, Now playing at The Comedy Theatre, Melbourne until March 26, before touring nationally (Adelaide 28 March-2 April); Sydney (From 5 April); Canberra (25-30 April); Brisbane (4-14 May) and Perth (31 May-11 June).

Tickets and information can be found at this link: http://theplaythatgoeswrong.com.au/

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