The Play That Goes Wrong review

The Play That Goes Wrong review

The Play That Goes Wrong review

Jenny Booth welcomes the return of live theatre to the West End with this hilarious comedy


Who murdered Charles Haversham at his country manor house on the night of his engagement party? I doubt you will care by the end of this rollicking farce, because you will be crying with laughter.

The Play that Goes Wrong is two plays in one. It’s the opening night of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s performance of Murder at Haversham Manor, but as curtain up nears the stagehands are still finishing the rickety set. Playing for time, the director goes out to chat to the audience, revealing more than he should about the company’s previous disasters. When the whodunnit finally starts, the production begins to fall apart – slowly at first, but inexorably gathering pace until the hysterical actors are tripping over their lines, the collapsing set and the unconscious bodies of their fellow thespians.

Both the slapstick and the character comedy reminded me of Laurel and Hardy: the drawn out physical gags, the actors’ ill-concealed frustration at things going wrong, and their increasingly wild improvisations as they try to stay in character in the face of mounting disaster. David Kirkbride stood out as Robert Grove/Thomas Colleymore, while Jack Michael Stacey’s stagestruck gurning as Max Bennett/Cecil Haversham/Arthur the Gardener reduced the audience to jelly. Full credit to understudy Colin Burnicle who was convincing as Chris Bean/Inspector Carter.

The viewing experience felt safe, in a small but airy theatre with vacant seats between groups, where the vast majority of the audience were obeying the request to keep their masks on. It was exhilarating to be back in a West End audience. The actors were also excited, and if it led a couple of them to ham up the dramatic pauses too much, nobody minded. David Kirkbride gave an impromptu speech at the end, thanking the audience for coming and begging us all to see more live theatre. I hope we can.


Duchess Theatre, Booking to Sunday 30 January 2022.

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