going wrong

All together now! Edward Howells (Dennis), Tom Babbage (Max), Leonard Cook (Robert), Aisha Numah (Understudy), Damien James (Understudy), Gabriel Paul (Trevor), Laura Kirman (Annie), Edi De Melo (Understudy), Katie Hitchcock (Understudy), Seán Carey (Jonathan), April Hughes (Sandra) and Tom Bulpett (Chris)


The Play That Goes Wrong

Birmingham Hippodrome


I first saw the play that goes wrong going very wrong on its first tour back in 2014. I laughed a lot then, and I laughed just as much when it went just as wrong this time around.

I brought along my grandson, aged 10, and he laughed long and loud as well, so I think we can take it that it is funny, side-splittingly so.

When I first saw it, it was a breath of fresh air, a play that does not rely on farce, or silly plots to get the laughs, but a mish mash of pretty well everything that has gone wrong on stage since the time of Shakespeare’s Globe – missing out burning down the theatre of course. 

The result is a play of pure, unbridled daftness, comedy gold; a totally incompetent cast, with a props master who make useless an ambition, a sound and lights man, worried about a missing CD, taking little more than a passing interest in what is going on on stage and a set built by the likes of Wing and a Prayer Ltd as bits drop off, don’t work or fall apart.

All in all, it was one of the funniest plays I had seen, and just as funny every time since, and on its latest tour, what is now an old friend, keeps the laughs a-coming –mind you how they got to the Hippodrome without the Transit van breaking down or SatNav taking them to Immingham is a mystery in itself.

The play is perhaps even funnier for seasoned reviewers, especially those of us covering amateur and professional theatre. Mischief Theatre’s production needs hours of rehearsal and immaculate timing to get it go so wrong so well. In the real world, productions can manage it with no rehearsal, no timing and no laughs, or at least not intended ones, although, to be fair, noticeable errors are an extremely rare event, making them all the more memorable.

Every error known to theatre is there at its glorious worst. The play has evolved over the years, tweaks here and there, or perhaps it is just other things going wrong, who knows, but it has lost none of its freshness, or classic comic moments and still has one of the lines that cracks me up every time about the poison kianidee – work it out.

cook and door

Leonard Cook finds himself somewhat unhinged as Robert.

The plot is simple. People get murdered  . . . or do they? . . . the dog is missing, and Florence, or perhaps more accurately, the Florences, are accident prone. This is a play that gets through a lot of Florences.

As usual this is a play that is a nightmare for reviewers as the real cast are playing the imaginary cast members of the Cornley Polytechic Dramatic Society who in turn are playing the characters in The Murder at Haversham Manor. So, to keep it simple the real actors are in brackets after the actors they are playing . . . possibly Things might go wrong so keep notes if you wish.

Leading it all is director, and everything else, Chris Bean (Tom Bulpett) who plays Inspector Carter in his directorial debut. He is a season member of the company with many years of incompetence and pomposity behind him.

He is called in to investigate the murder of Charles Haverhsam, played with a remarkable amount of life for a corpse by Johnathan Harris (Seán Carey) while his brother is Cecil, or Kecil in some quarters, played by Max Bennett, (Tom Babbage) who is somewhat stage struck and sees the fourth wall as more of a window and is apt to wave and smile and play up to those on the other side – i.e. us the audience..

He also sees movement as a vital feature of acting so provides it with all the enthusiasm of a circus tumbling act.

Which brings us to Kecil, sorry, Cecil’s lover and Charles’s fiancée Florence Colleymore played by Sandra Wilkinson, (April Hughes), (and also Annie Twilloil (Laura  Kirman) the stage manager after Sandra becomes . . . unavailable (and Trevor Watson(Gabriel Paul – who trained at Birmingham School of Acting incidentally) the lighting and sound tech after Annie’s, should we say, indisposition) It is a dangerous part.

set chaos

All's well that . . . well, ends . . . with Katie Hitchcock (Understudy), Leonard Cook (Robert), Edi De Melo (Understudy), Tom Bulpett (Chris), Tom Babbage (Max), Laura Kirman (Annie), Edward Howells (Dennis), Damien James (Understudy), Aisha Numah (Understudy), Seán Carey (Jonathan) and April Hughes (Sandra).

Sandra, plays Florence in the style of a 1920’s flapper, flapping quite a lot, a sort of vamp on speed. Her brother is Thomas, played with a reassuring air by Robert Grove, (Leonard Cook) who sadly has so little to be reassuring about. He is inventive, and by George he needs to be, improvising gamely as the things going wrong mount up while Dennis Tyde (Edward Howells) plays Perkins the Butler, Tyde, it seems, failed to get into any of Cornely’s other societies and his only experience on stage is a shepherd in a primary school. nativity play.

He is 90 per cent competent in that he is there and in costumey. Unfortunately, the 10 per cent missing includes not only not remembering big words but also how to pronounce them. He also has a tendency to drift into dialogue loops, when sections are repeated over and over until someone – i.e. Perkins – actually remembers the next line to move things on.

Max pops up again as Arthur the gardener, who is a sort of Cecil with sideburns (or sideburn) a missing dog and watering can.

Oh, and Trevor, played by . . . well Trevor. He’s the sound guy and lights, most of the time although he does tend to lose interest and interact with the audience from time to time. While Annie scurries about stage managing or rather trying to catch up with the stage which is managing to get away from her.

As for the acting, a word used in its loosest sense, we have lines learned without context, telling someonealready sat down to take a seat for example, or lines delivered in strict order even if it means replying to questions yet to be asked. It is acting that would make ham seem like Gielgud or Olivier

We even have arguments with the audience, with Bean at one point screaming that it is not pantomime – oh yes it . . . oh, never mind. He is right in that though. It is a rare panto that manages such sustained and well deserved laughter. Two hours just flies by in a flurry of fun.

This is the worst, most amateurish, least competent piece of theatre you are ever likely to see and it is just magnificent, daft, glorious comedy, brilliantly performed and more fun that you can shake a stick at – if Annie has remembered to leave the stick out! It goes wrong to 30-10-21.

Roger Clarke


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