If you’re in desperate need of a laugh right now (and let’s face it, the way 2017 is going, who isn’t?), then get yourself down to see The Play That Goes Wrong stat.
This Olivier-winning, Edinburgh Fringe-to-West End-to-Broadway runaway hit represents farce in its purest form –it’s very silly, but very very funny. Taking the format of a play within a play, it sees amateur dramatic company Cornley Polytechnic attempting to stage a production of a (made-up) 1920s whodunit, The Murder At Haversham Manor. Murder mystery parodies and am-dram theatrics might be pretty easy comedy targets, and the slapstick is done with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer… but who cares when it is this much fun?
I understand that watching a bunch of people getting smacked in the face for an entire evening might not be everyone’s cup of tea – and trust me, I wasn’t all that sure it was mine – but resistance here is futile. The cast are like a Looney Tunes cartoon come to life, with every expert pratfall, ingenious gaffe and brilliantly judged blunder taking the slapstick to sublime new levels. The joke might start wearing a little thin by the end (at some points, it does just become a whole lot of noise) but the cast have more than exuberance and élan to keep the audience rolling in the aisles right until the curtain call.
Performing in The Play That Goes Wrong is the comic equivalent of running a marathon – it’s a physically demanding, high-energy couple of hours that simply never lets up – and so it seems unfair to single out any standouts in the uniformly excellent cast. Nevertheless, I did particularly love Jason Callender as the overly animated corpse Charles, who has a great way of holding moments to make them even funnier, and Alastair Kirton as the victim’s brother Max, whose childlike mugging for the audience might be hammier than a leg of gammon, but is all the more hilarious for it.
The real standout here though is Nigel Hook’s set. Deceptively low-rent on first appearance, this wobbliest of English country houses soon reveals itself to be as much of a character as the actors who swiftly set about destroying it throughout the evening. Elements fly off and fall apart with the kind of precision timing that would make a Swiss watchmaker proud. It takes some serious skills to escalate chaos this cleverly, and the genius lies in the fact that – even by the end of the show – you’re never quite sure what other terrible tricks it has up its sleeve.
The Play That Goes Wrong is the kind of good clean fun you thought had gone out of fashion – but here it is, as living laughing proof of quite how giddily joyous it can be. This might be the play that’s gone wrong… but heavens, does it feel so so right.
The Play That Goes Wrong by Lunchbox Productions is at the Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, 19-24 September 2017. Tickets cost $495-795 and are available from www.hkticketing.com. The show then transfers to New Zealand from 27 September-15 October 2017; see here for more details.
Note: I received complimentary tickets for the Gala Premiere of this show