The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong 2017Lunchbox Theatrical Productions and Stage Presence in association with David Atkins Enterprises, ABA, and Kenny Wax Limited. Her Majesty’s Theatre. 29 Mar 2017


If there were to be PhD distinction for theatrical ham, The Play That Goes Wrong would provide the all-immersive qualification.

This is a work of epic shtick.


If ever there was a piece of classic cornball silly business, it is this ridiculous production. The old British manor house set is constantly at war with the actors. Doors don’t work. Things fall off walls. Actors try to save the situation while the play goes on. Props are not where they should be. Actors improvise. Actors come to grief. Backstage crew steps in with scripts. But the show goes on. 

Long looks and frozen moments. Actors reading from cues on their hands. Words they simply cannot pronounce. Every disaster compounded by yet another calamity. Every actor’s nightmare. But the show goes on.


This audience member laughed until her ribs ached. And then she laughed some more.

Not everyone was creased in hilarity. Some seemed just a bit nonplussed to have paid high ticket prices to witness bad acting and technical ineptitude on a grand scale.

But in the extremity of badness lies the supreme skill.


These actors deliver the high art not only of acting but of clowning. Come on down Jacques Lecoq, the greatest clown teacher of them all. His artistry is all over this cast. And the athleticism of circus skills. Physical comedy is heightened by danger and danger is averted only by split-second timing and precise technical planning. 


There is a plot, of course. It is The Murder at Haversham Manor set in the 1920s. The audience is told that this production by Britain’s Mischief Theatre Company is actually from the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and there are comprehensive spoof program notes to underscore this assertion. Hence, the actors play actors playing roles.


It is murder most mysterious and through the rowdy chaos of mishaps, mis-cues and mistakes, somehow it is solved. Of course, by that time, no one in the audience really cares. They are weary with laughter and a sense of incredulity that levels of hysteria could be sustained for so very long. 


The cast on this touring production is mainly Australian with one American and a “token Pommie”. He is James Marlow who plays Max Bennett playing Cecil Haversham. There is not a comic nuance this actor does not deliver while vaulting furniture and manhandling imaginary dogs. A sublime performance. But he’s in very good company since all the cast - Tammy Weller, Brooke Satchwell, Luke Joslin, George Kemp, Adam Dunn, Darcy Brown and Nick Simpson-Deeks - excel on the high plateau of supple-bodied melodramatic excess. 


The Play That Goes Wrong was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, and directed by Mark Bell with James Marlow as Resident Director. 


The show is brought to Adelaide by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Stage Presence in association with David Atkins Enterprises, ABA, and Kenny Wax Limited with one-time South Australian showbiz luminary Jon Nicholls as its Executive Producer. Nicholls’s opening night cameo stage appearance apologising for the first technical fault was a wee treat for the Adelaide theatre people who remembered his heyday with the Arts Council and Promcon. 


And, those of us who fall apart at entirely farcical theatrical nonsense thank them one and all for delivering this award-winning gem downunder.


Samela Harris


When: 29 Mar to 2 Apr

Where: Her Majesty’s Theatre


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