Not all right on the night fun

scene from The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play that Goes Wrong                                      

Malvern Theatres


A CORPSE that does not stay still, and even walks off stage; hiding in grandfather clocks, pyrotechnics, mistimed sound cues and entrances, mistaken identities – this show has all the tricks of broad farce and more!

The Play that Goes Wrong offers us a play within a play, a murder mystery that provides the skeleton of a plot, a piece presented by the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and one which epitomises all the stereotypical weaknesses of some old-time amateur dramatics.

We are at Haversham Manor on the night of Charlie Haversham’s engagement party, but alas he is dead, presumed murdered. But by whom? His fiancée is having an affair with the deceased’s brother. Are they the guilty ones? Inspector Carter arrives to investigate but everything goes wrong! The door is locked so the cast enter through the side-wall; the stage crew remove props and place props on stage with the visible hand reaching around the scenery; the gun does not work when it should, the sound cues occur at the wrong times; the wrong props are available when collected by members of the household so that the Inspector ends up writing his notes with a key on the vase; the stretcher used to carry the corpse collapses to leave the actors walking off with two poles, while the corpse has to make his own way off stage a few moments later. This is a play where everything ‘goes wrong’! One is reminded of Frank Spencer and ‘Some Mothers do Have ‘Em’ – the farce of everything endlessly going wrong!

There is a strong element of ‘taking the mick’ out of all that is least professional about amateur dramatics. The style of the acting is ‘ham’ to the ultimate extreme. Everything is overplayed: the use of voice, the gestures, the pointing of key elements of the plot to the audience, the ‘corpsing’ (falling out of character) by cast members, the props that fail, the set that falls apart.

It is a context in which the ‘corniest’ of jokes can be hilarious. That linked to the traditional elements of farce: repeatedly for instance doors open to knock out a cast member that is hiding behind it.


The collapse of the upstairs study floor was hilarious and nerve-wracking at the same time. The rather typical ‘amateur’ trap of getting into a groove and repeating the same page of the script like an old LP that has stuck in a groove was managed with variety, timing and skill.

And to top it all the final collapse of the set near the end was brilliantly executed. One aspect of this show that deserves great credit was that it succeeded in sustaining and even building the humour through the second act and continuing to spring some surprises until the end. The whole gamut of tricks is run through and more!

The cast performed with tremendous energy and life. It is a young team, the show is settled and extremely slick. They provide a contrasting team of physiques and voices that blend and give a strong sense of cohesion and shared fun.

David Hearn‘s performance as Max, Cecil Haversham and indeed the gardener with the invisible dog was particularly outstanding: balancing the hints of ‘corpsing’ with the excessive intensity required for acting in a farce; enjoying the audience’s laughter and approval as specifically directed at himself; demonstrating his physical skills in holding props on the wall with both hands while managing the phone with his feet.

The Inspector reminds one of Basil Fawlty and Inspector Clouseau whose world is collapsing around him, excellently portrayed by Henry Shields. There are no weaknesses in the cast – even the Stage Manager and the Technician perform their parts brilliantly..

To the humourless it will have seemed silly, some of the humour or jokes are overplayed; but to the very full audience last night, both old and numerous younger ones too, it was hilarious. They came ready to laugh from the very outset and they were rewarded with a vibrant show that was devoid of smutty humour yet kept them laughing to the end. They loved it! 

Tim Crow 



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