THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG
27/09/2017 - 01/10/2017
Isaac Theatre Royal, Christchurch
03/10/2017 - 08/10/2017
ASB Waterfront Theatre, 138 Halsey St, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland
11/10/2017 - 22/10/2017
Acclaimed with five-star reviews and currently playing to packed houses in the West End and on Broadway, this brilliant comedic piece will make you laugh so much, you may hyperventilate.
The play introduces ‘The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society‘ who are attempting to put on a 1920s murder mystery, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong … does, as the accident-prone thespians battle on against all the odds to get to their final curtain call.
Co-written by Mischief Theatre company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields and directed by Mark Bell, The Play That Goes Wrong is a highly physical comedy packed with finely-tuned farce and Buster Keaton inspired slapstick delivered with split-second timing and ambitious daring.
The Play That Goes Wrong features the suitably inept UK touring cast. We’ll have none of those convicts from the Australian tour in NZ. Just Brits — the ones who sent them there.
The Play That Goes Wrong got it absolutely right when right when it clinched a number of accolades including a Tony Award this year, Olivier Award for Best New Comedy 2015, BroadwayWorld UK Winner for Best New Play 2015 and WhatsOnStage Award Winner for Best New Comedy 2014. The critically-acclaimed production continues to thrive in the West End playing to sold-out houses.
Mischief Theatre was founded in 2008 by a group of graduates of The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and began as an improvised comedy group. The company perform across the UK and internationally with improvised and original scripted work. This is Mischief’s first New Zealand Tour and they look forward to Going Wrong, upside down, on the other side of the world.
Great news! Due to Kim & Kanye buying heaps of tickets, we’ve had to release the final week of performances in Auckland from October 17 – 22 for THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG!
The ticket presale starts today, so snap them up quickly before the commoners buy them all.
Don’t worry Wellington & Christchurch, we still have tickets for you!
WELLINGTON, OPERA HOUSE
27 Sept – 1 Oct (8 performances only)
Special Thurs 2pm performance
CHRISTCHURCH, ISACC THEATRE ROYAL
3 – 8 Oct (8 performances only)
AUCKLAND, ASB WATERFRONT THEATRE
11 – 22 Oct
Special Thurs 12 Oct, 2pm performance
Everything wrong is dead right
Review by Roger Hall 13th Oct 2017
This was nearly a case of the review that went wrong. I truly thought The Play That Goes Wrong opened on Thursday and it was only late on Wednesday I discovered my error and made a dash for the ASB Waterfront Theatre.
Still, had I arrived late and plunged into the auditorium noisily demanding to be let in because I was the reviewer the audience would have assumed it was all part of the act.
A play’s title is a selling document and there can rarely have been a more accurate description of the evening we saw. [More]
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Precisely-timed comedy of errors a well-structured riot
Review by Michael Hooper 12th Oct 2017
The rabbit in the headlights. It’s a look you can really only appreciate if you’ve been on stage when a fellow actor delivers a totally unexpected impromptu line, then looks invitingly to you, or worse, delivers one of your own lines, or even worse, feeds you a line which skips ahead of the plot, then exits to leave you alone on stage, facing the audience. Such are the elements of many farces: amusing unless you happen to be caught in one!
Before the curtain, we are invited by ‘the director’ to attend the opening night of The Murder at Haversham Manor, “staged as it should be and cast exceedingly well.” There has already been a little pre-show activity in the theatre by some of the cast, but rather underplayed by comparison with, say, the recent Hudson & Halls Live! show.
The play about staging a play is hardly a new conceit – it was exemplified locally in The Opening Night Before Christmas at the Basement theatre last year. However, this touring ‘murder mystery’, like the movie Being Julia, has the advantage of being set against an accumulated history of British thesbianism that encompasses the corniest gags on the planet. It’s what Benny Hill, The Two Ronnies and a host of productions refer back to, and its vein is rich. Mining it takes precision timing, often physical dexterity for ‘the business’ and usually at least one troublesome door.
This production does not disappoint, delivering a well-contrived series of hilariously haphazard humorous disasters with agility and cumulative farcicality. Yes, things fall off walls, doors stick, and entries, exits and lines are misplaced, but Nigel Hook’s set throws much more confusion into the mix, on a grander scale. The real director, Mark Bell, teaches clown performance, and that, along with classic mime, also adds a touch of Mr Bean to the escapades, where compounding errors increase in pace and profusion until comedy erupts into chaos.
First word of advice: buy the programme. It is a very funny read that, like a concept album cover (e.g. Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick), brings you into the world populated by the production. This is the looniverse of the cash-strapped, amateur Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society that, despite a dearth of talent and resources, aims to “truly bring the house down”.
Taking the standard Agatha Christie plot as a starting point, the police inspector attending the murder scene secures the manor house and proceeds to (try to) interview all present, confounded by the cast and the set itself, as everything unravels. Patrick Warner, with a magnificently resonant voice, plays the inspector/director with an occasional echo of John Cleese’s Basil Fawlty, which is not inappropriate.
It takes a little while to shift into both the world of British farce, and the accident-prone, hammed up world of the Cornley Drama Society, but once disbelief is suspended it is a fun ride from the first piece of the set failing through to a wonderfully indulgent feedback loop of lines that brings Act One to a calamitous close.
After the intermission, ‘the director’ again addresses the audience before the curtain, expressing surprised delight “to see so many of you back”. Ironically the couple alongside me had chosen to leave, however they were in the tiny minority, judging by the enthusiastic applause and laughter of the packed opening night audience.
While this is an ensemble piece, it truly is cast “exceedingly well”. The ‘stage manager’, who must step in to read the female part after ‘an accident’, is played with rag-doll relish by Katie Bernstein, furthering Meg Mortell’s OTT milking of the vampy love cheat part of Sandra/Florence. Edward Judge comes close to serious acting as Robert/Thomas, and Alastair Curtain as Max/Cecil is athletic in his capers. The faulty unit who is Trevor the sound man is given a good old Scottish skinhead flavour by Graeme Rooney.
If you’ve ever wondered how someone could faint inside a grandfather clock, what it means to literally get on the turps, and why murder mysteries always have a library and a telephone, then this is your comedy, definitely more ham than Hamlet. I imagine Sellers, Cleese, Atkinson, Morecambe, Hawtrey, French and Barker would all delight in this precisely-timed comedy of errors that gathers up the best and worst of touring British comedy shows in one well-structured riot.
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So rightly wrong
Review by Lindsay Clark 04th Oct 2017
Helpless laughter is wonderful medicine for this woeful old world, especially laughter at some mildly unfortunate other’s expense. Even better, this time, the expense in question is removed twice over by being a play-within-a-play and moreover, from that enduring favourite, the murder mystery genre.
Mark Bell’s astute direction, an extraordinarily entertaining set from Nigel Hook and a company at once playing up the stereotypes and engaging with faultless physical farce – all these confirm the deserved popularity of this production at home in the United Kingdom and on extensive tour.
Recognition of its extraordinary success has included London’s Olivier Award for Best New Comedy (2015), as well as Broadway plaudits in the same year and a Tony award in 2017.We are not given insights into anything deep or meaningful on the face of it, but being part of a united audience revelling in absurdity and comic surprise brings satisfaction of its own.
We are invited to the opening night of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s ambitious production of Susie H K Brideswell’s The Murder at Haversham Manor by its understandably strung out director, Chris Bean, played impeccably by Patrick Warner. Justifiably strung out because this is his directorial debut and his multiple other production roles have included designer, costume designer, prop maker, box office manager, dress and PR, dramaturgy, voice coach and fight choreographer. He also fills the key role of saturnine Inspector Carter. His trepidation and fervour will be familiar to many who have been caught up in am-dram.
We have already witnessed the stage carpenter (cum technical operator and prompt ) Trevor, in preliminary struggles with a vital part of the set, his hammer, his mislaid CD of Duran Duran. Graeme Rooney, aided by Katie Bernstein’s energetic stage manager Annie, prepare us for Cornley’s optimistic enterprise, as they battle with bits of décor. The audience is already well on board, to the extent of providing extra hands on stage and engaging in helpful comment.
The plot involves all the essentials: the body – well two eventually – the hysterical fiancée, her secret lover, her authoritative brother, the ever-ready butler and of course the inspector, prowling, noting, interviewing. Late in the day the gardener contributes vital evidence towards the revelation of a shock perpetrator. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is treading a well-worn path and just as well, because such is audience hilarity at their efforts, that sequencing is less accessible for us than their ongoing struggles to keep things unfolding.
The perilous business of sustaining an illusion is rich in comic opportunity and this cast operates at the Olympian end of a scale that all who are familiar with amateur theatre will recognise: slow cues, no cues, missing props, make-do props, an actor where there should be space, space where there should be an actor, valiant extras, script in hand … The list is endless and almost endlessly entertaining.
All works beautifully, with special credit to the surprise features of the set, which ensure that sameness never compromises the laughter which overflows from moment to moment, so that dialogue is sometimes sensed rather than heard. Sound synchronised to enhance the physical jinks (Andy Johnson) is superbly used.
The cast, gloriously attired as stereotypes of the genre by Roberto Surace, delivers characterisation never short of brilliant. Jason Callender (Jonathan) is the enterprising but supposedly dead fiancé Charles Haversham, discovered on the chaise longue as the thriller opens. His betrothed, Florence Colleymore, is given full treatment by Meg Mortell (Sandra), including devastating ‘episodes’ as she reacts to events. Her bossy brother, Thomas, is robustly presented by an unstoppable Edward Judge (Robert) and her secret lover Cecil, brother to Charles and complete with loopy smile, is soundly established by Alastair Kirton (Max). Later, he doubles as Arthur, the gardener. At the bottom of the pecking order, but hugely important in his contribution to the comedy, is Edward Howells (Dennis) as the line-challenged, pronunciation-challenged, props-challenged butler, Perkins.
Delights do not stop at the performance either. The programme, or rather the programme within the programme extends the fun and the gentle tease about putting together a play. We’ve seen serious drama and great theatre, new plays and classics, but the ones that go wrong somehow burn into the memory. This one is so rightly wrong that it is assured of a special place.
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The set wins Most Surprising Performance award
Review by John Smythe 29th Sep 2017
Meta-theatrical comedies about putting on plays tend to use potboiler genres for the plays-within-the plays. Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound (1968) parodies the Agatha Christie murder mystery The Mousetrap and includes two critics in the action. Michael Frayn’s Noises Off (1982; last revised in 2000) takes us backstage for a sex-farce called Nothing On. The Netherlands Vis à Vis company’s touring show Picnic, which was a hit of the 2002 New Zealand Festival, took us frontstage and backstage of a murderous thriller, employing slapstick and a technically active set.
Now a new generation – graduates of The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art who formed Mischief Theatre in 2008 – has combined all those elements with The Play That Goes Wrong whereinThe Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s am-dram production of The Murder at Haversham Manor by Susie H K Brideswell takes the1920s murder mystery genre into farce with increasing levels of slapstick and a dysfunctional set that becomes a comical star in its own right.
It premiered modestly in a London pub theatre in Islington in 2012, was further developed and transferred to the West End in 2014, won multiple awards and is booking through to 2018 while touring productions have hit the UK, Broadway and Australia. This New Zealand tour “features the suitably inept UK touring cast,” the publicity tells us. “We’ll have none of those convicts from the Australian tour in NZ. Just Brits – the ones who sent them there.”
Whereas Stoppard elevated the intellectual intricacies of a whodunit plot to blackly comedic absurdism, any clever plot convolutions created by co-writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields become swamped by loud audience responses to the non-stop coarse acting and physical mishaps. Fair enough: the details of dialogue are clearly irrelevant to the production’s true purpose.
As we find our seats, stage manager Annie Twilloil (Katie Bernstein) and lighting & sound operator Trevor Watson (Graeme Rooney) are busy in the auditorium then on stage making last minute adjustments to the dubious drawing room set (Nigel Hook), featuring a fake fire, above-mantle portrait, coal scuttle, coat-of-arms above the door flanked by door chimes and a speaking horn, a heavily-curtained window, a grandfather clock, phoney bookshelves and an upper-level accessed by a lift and stairs. All these elements will prove as active as the actors, as The Murder at Haversham Manorprogresses or rather regresses.
Even the already-dead Charles Haversham – played by ‘Jonathan Harris’ who is played by Jason Callender – is much more active than your average corpse, exhibiting classic physical theatre skills. Charles was about to be married to Florence Colleymore (‘Sandra Wilkinson’/Meg Mortell) whose primary objective is to adopt sensuous postures and display a weird creative bent with the ‘episodes’ she is prone to when under stress.
Florence is apparently having an affair with Charles’s brother Cecil (‘Max Bennett’/Alastair Kirton), who grins as us like a loon whenever we react to him: a classic clowning trope. Her brother Thomas (‘Robert Grove’/Matthew Howell*) is the stock censorious would-be control-freak, and ‘Robert’ proves better than the others at improvising, in vain attempts to cover-up the copious catastrophes.
When the butler, Perkins (‘Dennis Tyde’/Edward Howells), stuffs up the contents of the whiskey decanters and substitutes with ostentatiously-labelled Turps, the ‘professionalism’ of the actors is sorely tested. So too is ‘Dennis’s ability to remember, let alone pronounce, long words: a good running gag.
The programme-within-the programme credits ‘Chris Bean’ as director plus 10 more creative, production and management roles, and he also (James Watterson* that is) plays Inspector Carter. Chris judiciously resists the urge to direct on stage despite the mishaps, apart from one breakout moment when, in response to an audience member’s attempt to help him locate a lost prop, he lectures us on theatre conventions and protocol. We love it.
As the calamities escalate, ‘Annie’ and ‘Trevor’ are obliged to step in, ‘on book’, generating yet another level of comedy. I take it the two women listed as understudies – Natasha Culley and Helana Muir – have taken on the exacting ASM roles (given those credited* as ASM/understudies are on stage this night) and great credit is due to them for ensuring that everything goes wrong in the right way.
I recall an interview with the writers that credited Buster Keaton as a key influence and his famous stunt in Steamboat Bill Jr is replicated fourfold in thebreath-taking climax to The Play That Goes Wrong.
There is no insightful depth to generate pathos, however, or thematic through-line to make it resonate beyond itself – unless we may detect special meaning in a dog called Winston who as disappeared but everyone behaves as if he is there, supposedly on the end of a leash but out of control at times. (I’m guessing that dog has been called Winston for the last nine years.)
It’s all about the spectacle, then. The whole cast is adept at combining their actor-characters’ textbook ‘coarse acting’ of their roles with apparently spontaneous reactions to the endless stream of unexpected events. Ultimately slapstick prevails, not least in an extended catfight, and overall the set wins the Most Surprising Performance award.
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*It may or may not have been another intended stuff-up to add a slip to the programme saying, “At this evenings performance: The role of Chris will be performed by Matthew Howell and the role of Robert will be performed by James Watterson.” Reference to the cast photos makes it clear it was the other way round.
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