Theatre Review: The Play That Goes Wrong at The Alhambra, Bradford

Extreme slapstick comes to Bradford as The Play That Goes Wrong continues its UK tour, stopping at The Alhambra where Leo Owen caught the show

London based company, Mischief Theatre are appropriately named, considering their distinctly farcical stage shows, including Peter Pan Goes Wrong and The Comedy about a Bank Robbery. The clue to their characteristic genre and comedic source is of course obvious from production names.

The Play That Goes Wrong predictably begins shambolically as the set crumbles around a faux amateur dramatics group before their show has even begun. There’s ten minutes of fixing and re-fixing props, only for them to break again as stage and sound technicians creep across the stage awkwardly trying not to be spotted by the awaiting audience.

Mischief Theatre utilise the play within a play structure, opening with an introduction to this evening’s production of Murder at Haversham Manor, much in the style of a compere warming up a comedian’s audience. The owner of the titular estate Charles Haversham (Steven Rostance) is found dead on the very day of his engagement to his fiancé, Florence. It is left to Inspector Carter (Jake Curran) to sniff out the culprit.

A patchwork of different humours, The Play That Goes Wrong was written collectively by Mischief’s Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, certainly feeling like a team effort, almost as if much of the inspiration for skits came from a boozy brainstorming night down the pub. From bumbling cast tripping up; wandering corpses; delayed snow fall; doors sticking; misplaced spot lights to faulty and missing props, everything that can go disastrously wrong does, and anything left unscathed is so ill-advised in its inception it only adds to the already plentiful laughter cues.

The story’s central characters all have humorously preposterous idiosyncrasies, including the butler Perkins (Benjamin McMahon) repeatedly reading words off his hand only to incompetently mispronounce them, like “ominoose” (ominous). Florence (Elena Valentine) has vague and over-accentuated “episodes” that include twerking as the play progresses and she’s played by different cast, including Trevor (Gabriel Paul), the sound guy. It’s Charles’ brother, Cecil Haversham, whose personal trait’s the most genius as Bobby Hirston takes on the persona of a self-congratulatory actor who keeps clapping himself.

As the mystery unravels so does the set and the show’s pace becomes increasingly manic as miscued lines result in dialogue on a loop and actors failing to suitably ad-lib, instead awkwardly delivering lines regardless. With cast perilously hanging from the set’s dilapidated second tier and Florence repeatedly floored, the brilliance of Nigel Hook’s design and Mark Bell’s tight direction becomes all the more apparent in the second act when it seems an accomplishment in itself that none of the actors are actually injured.

Occasional dialogue and freeze frames are a tad drawn out but The Play That Goes Wrong’s juvenile tone seems perfectly pitched for the school group sitting behind who laugh riotously throughout, obviously enjoying the cast’s exchanges with the audience. Pantomime crossed with a whodunnit and a pinch of Fawlty Towers, it literally brings the house down.

The Play That Goes Wrong showed at The Alhambra 18-23 June before continuing its UK tour: