THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

★★★★★

_REVIEW.   it’s about _THEATRE.   words _KYLE PEDLEY.
  at _THE ALEXANDRA.   tickets _OFFICIAL SITE.   booking until _21st MAY.

May 16, 2022
images © Robert Day.

“It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!”

Ahh, the immortal genius of Dolly. We all get the gist of her now-immortal barb; by way of characteristic self-deprecation, she makes a salient point about how sometimes the most difficult (and expensive!) thing of all is to fabricate or construct a sense of amateur cheapness. For her, the dolled up hookers and ‘trash’ of Tennessee’s city walks, for the lucky residents of Birmingham and beyond, the distinctly British sight of a slightly under-financed and equally under-rehearsed amateur dramatic society.

It is, granted, a bit of a stretch of a platinum wig, to twist the same logic of Dolly’s infamous quip to Mischief Theatre’s Olivier-gobbling The Play That Goes Wrong, but the essence of the point stands. It is indeed a lot of hard work – not to mention, talent – to so successfully create a simulacra of the mundane, the everyday, the ‘cheap’. Doubly so if you then proceed to figuratively set fire to it all and warp it into a raucous, tireless farce of amateur dramatics gone terribly wrong (yet at the same time, oh so right).

Mischief season their master-crafted illusion from the off. Even as patrons file through the theatre lobby, or perhaps queue to purchase snacks, cast members donned in suitable usher garb are bickering amongst themselves. Things, it appears, have already begun to go wrong for ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’, the fictional AmDram group at the heart of Goes Wrong. ‘Crew’ are ferrying about the auditorium looking for ‘Winston’, a canine member of the ‘Murder at Haversham Manor’ cast, whom has apparently gone missing.

By curtain up – at which point we’ve also been witness to some last-minute ‘adjustments’ to the Haversham Manor set – the play-within-a-play begins, steered by ‘director’ Chris Bean (Colin Burnicle) and his ensemble of fellow players.

Brum’s Gone Wrong – It’s ‘Mischief May’ in Birmingham this month, with Magic Goes Wrong (pictured above) following next week at Birmingham’s Hippodrome Theatre.

What follows can perhaps best be described as a big, noisy, hilarious explosion of Christie-lite whodunnit silliness filtered through a blender of Frayn, Rix and Aldwych madness. The play, quite literally, goes very, very wrong, with nary a line or beat passing without some madcap, hilarious mayhem attached.

It’s the kind of show that would be dulled by giving too much detail, or indeed too many examples, but needless to say, you get more than your fair share of slapstick, wordplay and razor-sharp comedic excellence over the course of the show’s two-act carousel of chaos. Originally conceived of and performed as a shorter, single Act piece, Mischief managed to translate Goes Wrong to its current, fuller form – including the injection of an interval – without sacrificing any of its jaunty pace and breakneck barrage of funny.

Brum’s Gone Wrong – It’s ‘Mischief May’ in Birmingham this month, with Magic Goes Wrong (pictured above) following next week at Birmingham’s Hippodrome Theatre.

The shows rests (at times quite literally) on the shoulders of its cast. Practically every member of the Cornley ‘society’ is required to show off physical chops as well as linguistic gymnastics. See, for instance, the corpse of the murdered man (Steven Rostance) who has suffered his hand being trodden on one too many times. Or perhaps the hyper enthusiasm of ‘Max’ (Edi De Melo), whose initial anxiety gives way to gloriously over-telegraphed monologuing and gesticulation when he gets a taste of audience appreciation. See that mezzanine study, ominously hanging over the corner of the stage, propped up by a solitary wooden column? Wouldn’t it be awful if someone happened to…

“A playground of the absurd, and Mischief have once again assembled a truly inspired cast…”

As mentioned, this is a playground of the absurd, and Mischief have once again assembled a truly inspired cast to sell every mispronounced word, every wooden pane to the face, every trip, slip and slap. The aforementioned De Melo is infectiously adorable and exuberant as Max, and Beth Lilly charts a side-splitting turn from mild-mannered, reluctant stage-hand, who nevertheless ends up stealing scenes with relish as she begins to discover her inner thespian. Kazeem Tosin Amore gives great bullish bluster punctured regularly with high-pitched hysterics as Robert, whilst Aisha Numah’s faultless timing and comic sensibilities are showcase to perfection, as her ‘Sandra’ takes on the sultry role of seductress Florence Collymore. Perhaps most impressive of all is Burnicle as director-cum-‘inspector’ Chris, whose barely repressed exasperation and ferocious nervous energy are scarcely little more than a quiver of the lip or hand away.

In truth, though, there’s not a weak link amongst the entire team – ironic, perhaps, given the bounty of flaws, faults and buffoonery that their on-stage personas become guilty of.

The Mischief behemoth has morphed from something not a million miles apart from its Cornley Polytechnic, into what is now a truly international, cross-platform brand, synonymous with comedy excellence on stage, television and beyond. In many ways, The Play That Goes Wrong, whilst not quite their very first spark of genius, was nonetheless in many ways the litmus test for what was to come. Like Mischief as a whole, it has grown and developed into something even bigger, bolder and funnier still, whilst never losing sight of the inherent silliness and relatability that makes it a worthy successor to the likes of, say, Noises Off or One Man, Two Guv’nors.

That isn’t to say it is in any way derivative, though. It’s confidently, and refreshingly, it’s own barmy beast, and amongst the funniest, most madcap evening’s of theatre you can get tickets for.

And to paraphrase, if not completely bastardise, the Queen of Country, ‘it takes a lot of right to make a play go so joyously, sidesplittingly wrong’.

A red letter showcase of comedic stagecraft. So spectacularly, seamlessly ‘wrong’, that it’s unmissably, side-splittingly right.

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