play cast

The Play That Goes Wrong

Malvern Theatres


The drama doesn’t normally begin until the lights go down and the curtain goes up. But there is nothing normal about this evening’s entertainment.

As theatre goers begin to trickle from foyer and bar into auditorium, there are raised hackles and raised voices amongst irate members of the cast and stage management team of The Murder at Haversham Manor – the play within The Play That Goes Wrong. Confused? Splendid.

Once tempers have calmed a little and audience members have found their seats and regained their bearings, we are warmly welcomed to Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s production of The Murder at Haversham Manor.

The performance programme assures us that despite one of the props being a real gun, it has been made safe by polytechnic stage manager Annie Twilloil (Katie Bernstein)who has wedged wet paper towels inside the barrel. As Annie seems to have single-handedly designed, built and stage managed the entire production we can clearly rest assured that we are not in safe hands.

It is actually worth arriving early to fully digest the programme, as it helps explain the attitudes of some cast members: Max Bennett’s excitement at joining the cast is evident throughout the night, and his lack of naturalism is perhaps offset in the eyes of his colleagues by his recent large donation to the Drama Society’s funds; Dennis Tyde failed his tryouts for various clubs before finally being allowed into the Society; and Trevor Watson aims to gain the credits he needs for his electronics module before leaving the Drama Society as quickly as possible.

Although we must of course remember that these ‘cast members’ are simply characters played by cast members of The Play That Goes Wrong: Alastair Kirton, Edward Howell and Graeme Rooney. It’s probably more straightforward simply to watch it.

So... The Play That Goes Wrong is a smidgen over two hours’ worth of carefully choreographed mayhem encompassing just about every possible theatrical mishap you could imagine, and many that you can’t. From the outset, props malfunction, egos clash, lines are forgotten and cues missed.

The cadaver (Jason Callender’s Jonathan) will not stay still, Sandra (Meg Mortell) is knocked unconscious, and Trevor the techie seems more focused on finding his mislaid Duran Duran CD than adding those vital finishing touches to the performance. There is intelligent slapstick, swordplay and wordplay, fantastic physical theatre, and absolutely perfectly timed mis-timings. Imagine a Miss Marple mystery set in Fawlty Towers and you’ll gain a hint of the mood of this piece.

After the interval Patrick Warner as the Polytechnic Drama Society’s director Chris Bean apologises for ‘one or two minor snags’ and the pace becomes more manic as the murder mystery unfolds. Serious injuries and a collapsing set make stand-ins and improvisation absolute necessities if the cast is to make it to the finish line, with some artists bravely battling adversity while others battle for the limelight. Another star of the show has to be the ingenious set designed by Nigel Hook, which implodes spectacularly throughout, building to a disastrous climax.

The whole show was exhausting to watch and I was utterly impressed at the actors’ skills and physicality, and the clever writing by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields. The auditorium was filled with guffaws for two hours, and other audience members rated the show as ‘hilarious’ and ‘fabulous’, urging me to go and see the similarly themed Peter Pan Goes Wrong, another collaboration between Producer Kenny Wax and Mischief Theatre. Once I’ve recovered I may well take their advice.

The Play That Goes Wrong moves on from Malvern to Plymouth then Canterbury, and I’d recommend it for adults and older children alike. High energy, fun entertainment, this play will have you wishing for disaster in every production you see.

To 22-07-17.

Amy Rainbow


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