Photo – Jeff Busby
The Cornley Polytechnic Dramatic Society is putting on a production of “The Murder at Haversham Manor” a fairly conventional whodunit, involving murder, an affair and a secret will. These hapless thespians haven’t had much luck with past productions. Their production of “cats” was so understaffed that it was retitled “Cat”.
This elegantly simple comic premise is spelled out in the title. This is the play that goes wrong and anything that can surely does. The question is does two hours of comic mishaps become repetitive and tedious? The answer is not at all. This is literally laugh a minute chaos as missing props combine with ridiculously inappropriate sound cues and collapsing sets. Interestingly, there are no gags within “The Murder of Haversham manor” all gags are completely external to the world of the play within a play. In this way it is quite different to Noises Off which builds layer upon layer of farce as the same act is repeated three times.
In fact, The Play that Goes Wrong is not really a farce in the sense of a frantic rush to cover up secret after secret via a series of hastily constructed phrases with double meanings like Fawlty Towers. It is more broad based physical comedy in the traditional of Charlie Chaplin or The Goodies. For example Chris (Nick Simpson Deeks) playing the inspector and Robert (Luke Joslin) playing Thomas Colleymoore push the limits of human stupidity when they try to answer the phone while trying to prevent paintings from falling down, resulting in a series of extravagant entanglements.
This acting is a tricky business. Johnathan (Darcy Brown) playing Charles Haversham makes you realise just how difficult playing a stiff can be, particularly when you are forced to make your own stage exits. Anyone who has sat in on a rehearsal has noted how picking up the wrong prop can throw out an actor’s rhythm. This doesn’t phase the inspector however who is happy to jot down his case notes on the outside of a vase of flowers. Adam Dunn deserves special mention as Trevor the Duran Duran, loving sound and lighting guy who finds himself far more involved in the production than he bargained for. Nigel Hook’s detailed set resembles the room of an English Manor and cops a beating like few other play sets have.
Such is the physicality of the piece that the audiences wonders out of Roslyn Packer Theatre in a daze of gobsmacked exhaustion. The climax is indeed frantic but the play doesn’t always flow with the door slamming rhythms of traditional farce. The mishaps are initially so disruptive that the first act has a stop start feel which is punctuated by many long silences.
The play may go wrong but the laughs definitely don’t. You’d have to be in a pretty bad mood not to enjoy this broad physical comedy that should appeal to all ages. I’d love to see The Play That Goes Wrong, performed by a suburban or rural amateur theatre society. This would give the opportunity for some delightful touches of self-referential mockery.
Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Kenny Wax Ltd and Stage Presence in association with ABA International Touring and David Atkins Enterprises present the Mischief Theatre Company production
The Play That Goes Wrong
Director Mark Bell
Venue: Roslyn Packer Theatre, 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Dates: from 5 April 2017
Venue: Canberra Theatre, Civic Square, London Circuit, Canberra
Dates: from 25 April 2017
Venue: Concert Hall, QPAC, Corner of Grey & Melbourne Streets, South Bank
Dates: from 4 May 2017
Venue: His Majesty’s Theatre, 825 Hay Street, Perth
Dates: from 31 May 2017