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Review: The Play That Goes Wrong

Theatre

An amateur theatre company's attempt to stage a 1920s murder mystery turns into an hilarious fiasco in this slick touring production, writes reviewer Nicky Titchener.

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Even before the audience is seated, some members of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are moving among them in the foyer. There’s a flustered stage manager (“Anyone seen a dog? We need him for the second act”) and the urbane Chris Bean, Producer and So Much More of tonight’s production The Murder at Haversham Manor, welcoming all with grandiose self-importance.

So the tone is set for this epic performance by skilled and accomplished actors, presenting themselves as hapless amateurs.

It is demanding enough to engage an audience with thoroughly rehearsed physical comedy, but when the premise is to be the cast of a murder mystery completely beset with disaster, the task becomes colossal. This company accomplishes it superbly.

The set is detailed and atmospheric of the English country house, but clearly ready to be part of the unfolding litany of catastrophe. It proves the undoing of many of the cast and their reluctant understudies, as farce meets with slapstick to the delight of the audience.

The deliberate overplaying of characters gives quite a hysterical tone to much of the dialogue, and this is sometimes lost in the erupting pandemonium – but it really doesn’t matter.  Characters engage with the audience, the Producer/Principal Actor’s desperation becomes more and more apparent with every new fiasco, and the ever-persecuted stage manager gets his own back in the end.

In reality, it is the UK’s Lunchbox Theatrical Productions that has brought the play to Adelaide as part of an Australian tour with a mostly Australian cast including Brooke Satchwell and Luke Joslin as actors Sandra and Robert, and Nick Simpson-Deeks as Bean.  If you are a fan of farce and slick presentation of physical comedy – or if you have ever been part of an amateur theatre presentation that hasn’t gone quite as smoothly as it should, you’ll love this production.

As director Chris Bean says in his program’s letter of introduction, “I’m sure that with a full audience, the piece will truly bring the house down”.

 The Play That Goes Wrong’ is showing at Her Majesty’s Theatre until April 2.

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