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The Play That Goes Wrong at Theatre Royal Brighton

You have to feel sorry for Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society. They have now been touring “Murder at Haversham Manor” since 2014. When I first saw it, and every time they perform it the same things go wrong! The fact that all these things are very, very, funny is beside the point!

The Play That Goes Wrong full castingYou would never guess that this ‘play’ has been continuously playing in the West End, in regional theatres and on Broadway for so long as it certainly does not look tired and comes up fresh as a coat of new paint.

The physicality of the cast is stunning; how they do not injure themselves reflects on their gymnastic abilities as well as the thoroughness of the rehearsal process, and the skill and imagination of the director, Mark Bell.

What is the play about? Well, someone is discovered apparently dead on stage when the play begins, and others apparently die during the course of the play until the perpetrator is eventually discovered. BUT more than that I will not give away. You will have heard the phrase “a laugh a minute” except that in Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields’ play it is a laugh about every ten seconds; in fact, the play is exhausting to watch as the laughs come thick and fast. Occasionally we are given a short respite.

As far as accolades go, the whole company is quite superb, playing off each other with true melodramatic style and terrific energy. The two ladies in the cast, April Hughes and Laura Kirkman, who sometimes portray the same role at the same time, work terrifically as a team, whether it is hiding in a grandfather clock or being hauled out of a window by one leg.

Gabriel Paul, as Trevor, the “sound and lighting man” also hides in the clock, when he is not listening to Duran Duran, or playing the role that Hughes and Kirkman sometimes play! I’m hoping you understand all this…?

The other gentlemen: Tom Babbage, Tom Bulpett, Sean Carey, Leonard Cook and Edward Howells all demonstrate great skill and willpower in attempting to forward the plot and explaining it to the audience (as if we care!) as well as using the lift to the mezzanine, a task which is often very fraught!

If there is a “star” in this hugely entertaining show though, it must be Nigel Hook’s set of Haversham Hall, which has justly won many awards. The company is obviously very much ‘at home’ when using it and it provides many of the evening’s high points, of which there are a lot!

This play is just the tonic for when Boris Johnson announces yet another Covid lockdown over Christmas – I defy anyone, even my former mother-in-law who never even smiled – not to laugh loud and long during and after seeing it! Certainly, the virtually full house at Theatre Royal Brighton could not get enough judging by the spontaneous reaction at the curtain call.

VERY highly recommended indeed if you can catch it either in London, where it is at the Duchess Theatre, or on its extensive tour.

5 Star Rating

Review by John Groves

The touring cast presents: Tom Babbage (Max), Tom Bulpett (Chris), Seán Carey (Jonathan), Leonard Cook (Robert), Edward Howells (Dennis), April Hughes (Sandra), Laura Kirman (Annie), Gabriel Paul (Trevor), with understudies: Katie Hitchcock, Damien James, Edi De Melo and Aisha Numah.

Mon 15 – Sat 20 Nov
BRIGHTON Theatre Royal
New Road, Brighton, BN1 1SD

Mon 22 – Sat 27 Nov
AYLESBURY Waterside Theatre
Exchange Street, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire HP20 1UG


  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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