Review by Sharman PrinceAmateur theatre has been a staple for many years and has spawned many a fine professional actor. It is, for many, an introduction to the vast world that exists beyond the proscenium arch and is both admired and frowned upon by some who work in the theatrical industry. Why the latter? Because it can so easily reduce art into something far less ... savoury, with cliché being the prime ingredient of many a poor production. "Amateur" can be a word to instil dread into many an audience member given that there do exist am-dram companies whose stage productions reek of "cheap" and "shoddy" workmanship - both in the onstage and offstage departments. Indeed, YouTube is full of footage of amateur theatre's mishaps.
It is all of the above that "The Play That Goes Wrong" attempts to confront and what writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields (who all feature in the cast) have cleverly done is to take the subject of the classic whodunit and spoofed it to the nth degree. But beyond that they have created a fictional company, "Cornley Polytechnic", who are presenting the whodunit "The Murder At Haversham Manor" replete with all the heightened clichés one could imagine of a terrible am-dram company: the wannabe starlet, the nervous first-timer, the seasoned performer are all present. Even the "stage technicians" are incompetent and as the title of the evening's proceedings suggests the play does not go off without a hitch, indeed even before the play starts proper we see the "backstage crew" attempting to prepare for the performance, somewhat unsuccessfully.
In many ways "The Play That Goes Wrong" is a wonderful homage to all who have ever taken part in amateur dramatics. Even whilst lampooning the all too recognisable characters present within such companies (and they do exist!) they are being honoured by being portrayed and played in so earnest a manner. Given that the "play" is falling apart around them the "actors" and "crew" of the play within a play valiantly struggle on, proving the truth behind the axiom, "the show must go on"!
The script is sharp, witty and hilarious whilst the design creates the perfect environment for this third-rate amateur company. The direction of Mark Bell is crisp and taut whilst the excellent ensemble (onstage and off) perform perfectly. Indeed, it is unfair to single any one performer out given that this really is an ensemble piece. There are one or two jokes that were stretched almost beyond their limit but these are not enough to dampen the energy and spirits that are present throughout. And it doesn't really matter that the "plot" of "The Murder At Haversham Manor" is somewhat obscured by the antics occurring, indeed this lends to the air of chaos that abounds and there were plenty of moments where the audience erupted into spontaneous applause and hardly a moment where laughter was not forthcoming. And laughter is what this play is really about.