The Play That Goes Wrong is an entertaining but unsatisfying take on physical comedy
- Gareth K Vile
- 8 March 2017
Recalling the glory days of BBC comedy, a slapstick farce of surface appeal and little depth
The Play That Goes Wrong is acutely aware of its audience: revelling in easy laughs – women in their underpants and men forced to kiss each other, collapsing scenery and bad acting – and relying on the familiar satire on the pretensions of amateur theatre, it has become a touring success with a JJ Abrams approved transfer to Broadway. Masquerading as a production by Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society of a dated murder mystery, The Play takes the mechanics of the farce, throws in plenty of slapstick and pratfalls and mocks the desire of director and star Chris (Patrick Warner) to make great art in the face of adversity.
While some of the physical comedy is over-played, the set-pieces are tight: actors are trapped on collapsing stages, props go missing and scenery is held desperately in place while the action continues around the contorted characters. Unfortunately, the script lacks depth: aside from Chris, who forlornly appeals directly to the audience for respect and Max (Alastair Kirkton) who seems overawed by the fact of being on stage, there is little character development and the climactic battle between competing female leads is more convenient excuse for a ruckus than an expression of deeper rivalries.
The shallowness of the comedy is undoubtedly part of the appeal: the set-pieces are heavily signposted, the bad acting, mistimed entrances and desperate attempts to prevent a complete collapse of the set are broad belly-laughs that recall the light entertainment of the 1970s. Both Warner and Kirkton make the most of their characters, with Warner evoking a tragic egotism that deserves its downfall and Kirkton adding a jolly vaudeville note to his naïve young actor.
The weaknesses of The Play are all in the details: the sweep and energy of the show keeps it entertaining and moves towards the inevitable final chaos at a fast pace. The choice of well-worn subject matter, to which it brings little new, and the obviousness of the jokes ensure that it is both well-received and unsatisfying. It aims low, but hits the target hard.
Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Tue 7–Sat 11 Mar
His Majesty's, Aberdeen, Mon 24–Sat 29 April
Northcott, Exeter, Mon 15–Sat 20 May