The Play That Goes Wrong is an entertaining but unsatisfying take on physical comedy (2 stars)

This article is from 2017

The Play That Goes Wrong is an entertaining but unsatisfying take on physical comedy

credit: Helen Murray

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

Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the information displayed here is accurate, always check with the venue before attending (especially during the Covid-19 pandemic).

The Play That Goes Wrong

  • Directed by: Mark Bell
  • Written by: Jonathan Sayer, Henry Lewis, Henry Shields

Award-winning company Theatre Mischief presents a play-within-a-play about an amateur dramatic society putting on a murder mystery production.

Aylesbury Waterside Theatre

Mon 22 Nov


Tue 23 Nov


Wed 24 Nov


…and 3 more dates until 27 Nov

Duchess Theatre, London WC2B

Thu 21 Oct

Prices to be confirmed / 0844 482 9672

Fri 22 Oct

Prices to be confirmed / 0844 482 9672

Sat 23 Oct

Prices to be confirmed / 0844 482 9672

…and 317 more dates until 30 Oct 2022

King's Theatre, Edinburgh

Tue 2 Nov

0131 529 6000

Wed 3 Nov

0131 529 6000

Thu 4 Nov

0131 529 6000

…and 3 more dates until 7 Nov

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