The Play That Goes Wrong is back again in Cardiff, this time playing at Wales Millennium Centre. For the uninitiated, this is an award-winning comedy from Mischief Theatre. As the title suggests, the premise is that of an amateur theatrical company – or the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, to be specific – performing a murder mystery by the title of “The Murder at Haversham Manor”. That the show has come to WMC this time around was, initially, something of a concern. It holds nearly 900 more seats than Cardiff’s New Theatre (which has been used in some of the show’s previous tours). The bare bones nature of the play means that reactions from the audience are a crucial ingredient to the overall farce, and I had a few reservations about the move away from the more intimate space, but I needn’t have worried. It’s a credit to the production and the management of the space that – even in the pre-show sequence – the atmosphere is retained with only the stalls and mid-stalls in use.
For anyone who has never experienced a Mischief Theatre production, I highly recommend getting to your seats as soon as the auditorium is open. The carefully crafted preamble before the show sets the comedic tone for the audience, and is a crucial working part in the cogs of the show’s meta-theatrical narrative. The work of the show’s writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields is done justice here by impeccable comic timing which is paced to keep the audience continuously positioned on the edge of laughter. The slapstick is of the highest order, and the comedic conceit of a play within a play still feels as fresh and effective as ever. This is felt most keenly in the blurred lines of fiction and real life with even the programme enmeshed in the bizarre world of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society.
All this is in service of the permission to peek behind the curtain, to be let in on the joke, as we see the fictionalised play’s steady disintegration. There is audience empowerment, too, in the sheer amount of material we are enabled to engage with. With Treavor’s “tech box” in full view of the audience, there’s always somewhere else to glance and chuckle as lighting mishaps and sound cues results in slapstick calamities and missing props. The show also lends itself further to the illusion via the inclusion of a university amateur acting group, which must be commended. For me, the show felt much like a contemporary version of Michael Frayn’s classic Noises Off! Yet, unlike the action which is broken down in Frayn’s play, The Play That Goes Wrong manages to interweave the mayhem backstage and on stage interchangeably throughout the show. A fresh take on the concept, delivered with aplomb.
Find out more about The Play That Goes Wrong at the WMC here.