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The Play That Goes Wrong at The Duchess Theatre | Review

It’s the dream success story, The Play That Goes Wrong. It had humble beginnings at the Old Red Lion Theatre in Islington, a 60-seat pub theatre in 2012, transferring to Trafalgar Studios the following year. The play then began a UK tour, from January 2014 at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, visiting 17 venues and ending in Darlington in July, prior to securing a West End transfer. The show has had a two-year Broadway run, and has been translated into various languages, with licenses granted for stage productions across Europe and further afield.

The Company of The Play That Goes Wrong at the Duchess Theatre. Photo credit Robert Day.
The Company of The Play That Goes Wrong at the Duchess Theatre. Photo credit Robert Day.

Updated only slightly for 2020 – the odd topical reference, and a chasing scene in which two of the characters get close-but-not-too-close to each other – the play retains, with its current cast, the quick-witted and briskly-paced nature that it did when it first arrived at the Duchess Theatre. In short, it’s as fresh as ever. Okay, some of that may have to do with the run only recently resuming, and some of the audience’s enthusiastic reactions may to some extent be related to the performance I attended being the last one in 2020, having only been open for a week, thanks to yet another change in Government regulations. But as ever, I can only review the performance I actually saw, and what I saw was pretty impressive.

It may not be quite as bombastic as the show’s original cast throughout, but hammed-up performances aren’t everything. Ross Green’s Chris Bean dealt very deftly with an audience member calling out something that would, had he not ad-libbed in response, made the rest of the scene rather redundant. For those who don’t know, the whole thing is essentially a play within a play, in which the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society puts on The Murder At Haversham Manor, a whodunnit production.

David Kirkbride’s Robert Grove and Michael Keane’s Dennis Tyde are contrasting figures on stage, the former tall and broad and the latter short and lean. The laughs come thick and fast (whoever thought a corpse that just won’t stop coming back to life would be so amusing), and there were audible gasps from the audience as the set gradually fell apart. Four of the characters are stuck in a loop as a line is inadvertently repeated, and the mispronunciations of various words throughout is, I think, an inherently British thing to laugh at, as some do at tourists from overseas who don’t necessarily say words like Leicester or Grosvenor correctly the first time around.

The production makes its physical demands on its cast: I found myself, having not seen the show for a few years, being taken aback afresh (in a good way) at the manner in which two of the characters try to reposition several items that have fallen off a wall whilst carrying on dialogue and answering a call from a rotary phone. Many people will be able to think of someone who won’t enjoy this – deeming it banal, repetitive and predictable. For the rest of us, however, it’s a couple of hours of fun and escapism: something very much needed in these difficult times.

The Play That Goes Wrong is still the play that gets it right – a raucous and delightful production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

You all know the classic whodunnit story, there has been a murder at a country manor and an inspector is set on the case to find who the culprit is. However, when this plot is given to the accident-prone thespians, The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, everything that can go wrong… does!

The actors and crew battle against all odds to make it through to their final curtain call, with hilarious consequences!
Do you ever find out who murdered Charles Haversham? You’ll have to see for yourself!

Now blundering through its seventh catastrophic year at London’s Duchess Theatre, THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is guaranteed to leave you aching with laughter!

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