Blunders, gaffes and laughs

Inspector Carter (Henry Shields), Perkins (Jonathan Sayer) and Thomas Colleymoore (Henry Lewis), the writers of The Play That Goes Wrong

It'll be all right on the night . . . won't it? Inspector Carter (Henry Shields), Perkins (Jonathan Sayer) and Thomas Colleymoore (Henry Lewis), the writers of The Play That Goes Wrong

The Play That Goes Wrong

Wolverhampton Grand


FOR an actor there can be no more satisfying sound than waves of audience laughter engulfing the stage – unless you are doing King Lear or Macbeth of course in which case it might hint at a problem or two with the production – or at the very least demand a check on your flies.

Not that Cornley Polytechnic’s Drama Society’s production of Murder at Haversham Manor was entirely trouble free mind you. The cast did have to contend with two severe concussions, technical crew floored by a blunt instrument, namely . . . well a floor actually, or a ceiling, depending upon which way you look at it.

And the fixings on the rather flimsy set were all a bit loose, and there were jammed doors, wobbly windows and all that, but then you have to give this little amateur company credit for taking their little show on the road, and of course credit for the talent to make such a terrible play not only worse but hilarious into the bargain.

Imagine everything that could possibly go wrong in a production, then add in the things that surely couldn’t go wrong, because believe me they could, and there you have The Play That Goes Wrong and you might add wrong and wrong and wrong.

It’s daft, downright silly, has a script beyond the play within a play that hardly bears the slightest scrutiny, but that hardly matters. It is gloriously, hilariously funny and the best laugh I have had for ages.

The play within the play is one of those Agatha Christie style 1920s murder mysteries which had a plot . . . at least I think it did, but the telling of the convoluted tale was fraught with pitfalls and pratfalls for the hardworking cast.

They gave us the very worst of amateur dramatics, and some pros too I might add, with over acting, more ham than an Olde Oak warehouse and all the problems of learning scripts by heart but without context, thus we have the conversation answering questions a line before they are asked or the nightmare scenario of a dialogue loop when a scene is enacted over and over until the vital next line is remembered.


There are props that are not there, or in the wrong place, or produced by mysterious hands offstage with the cast ploughing on regardless, no matter how silly their words learned by heart and unable to be varied no matter what actually sound when, for example, you ask the butler to pass you the telephone you are already holding in you hand . . .

Perhaps at times there was a little too much ham, and so much went wrong so often that despite the disasters multiplying at the rate of rampant rabbits in the second act it had all descended into the realms of slapstick, but what the heck.

It might not have the wit of a Wilde, or the farcical skills of a Cooney, but it does have wall to wall laughs - until they walls finally fall down of course – and that is a priceless commodity. For a couple of hours an audience can forget all their troubles, sit back, relax and not even have to think (indeed thinking is a distinct disadvantage in this play). It is all good, clean fun, and to enjoy it - just add laughter.

The cast play the cast who play the parts in the play what the play is about – are you keeping up at the back? Thus Chris Bean of the Polytechnic Drama Society is playing Inspector Carter in The Murder at Haversham Hall and is actually being played by Henry Shields. Take notes if you wish.

He is also the director of the play, not the one you are watching, that is Mark Bell, who is real, but the one in the play about the manor, which is unreal in more ways than one. He is directing that one . . . not this one.

Sheilds has a very laid back line in stand-up as he introduces the play and the second act. Then we have the obligatory corpse, Charles Haversham, played by Jonathan who in turn is played by Greg Tannahill, who, even though dead, has to protect his fingers from passing feet and even scurry off stage when the stretcher transporting him breaks leaving him stranded.

Thomas Colleymoore, his best friend from school, played by Robert who is really Henry Lewis, is a big, hairy chap in boots, country squire type, but a bit shifty while his sister Florence, played by Sandra, played by Charlie Russell is a bit of a vamp, or was until she was laid out by a flying door, a fate which was also to befall her understudy Annie, dragged from the stage crew and played by Nancy Wallinger. Their unceremonious removal, surreptitiously of course, through the window while unconscious is a delight as is the battle between the pair to continue the part once they have recovered.


Also dragged in from the technical crew and left unconscious was Trevor, played by Rob Falconer who also found himself playing Florence who seemed to have the most accident prone part of the entire show.

Every country house mystery needs an anyone for tennis character, or at least someone in cricket whites and in this case we have Charles’ brother Cecil, played by Max who is really Dave Hearn, and who overacts like a windmill in a gale, believes in actor participation in so much as if the audience clap so does he, and is quite happy to take bows during the action.

Then there is the faithful old retainer Perkins, played by Dennis who is really Jonathan Sayer, who has been with the family eight, 80, nine, 90 or 99 years depending upon how he read the script.

Perkins has a problem with both a limited vocabulary and a tendency to phonetic pronunciation, thus Charles was poisoned by Kyaniddy – work that one out yourself.

Along with Shields and Lewis, Sayer was one of the writers of this slice of theatrical madness and are leading lights of Mischief Theatre, made up largely of former LAMDA students, which originally created The Play That Goes Wrong which had rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival..

Credit too to set designer Nigel Hook who created a set which looks as amateur as you can get but has to take a hammering every night, have bits that fall off on cue, and have a floor which collapses without killing anyone, well not much anyway.

Timing is an essential in comedy, even the best lines and visual gags can die if the timing is out and this hardworking case don't put a foot wrong - well actually they put a foot, leg and indeed anything else you can think of wrong, but the timing is spot on from the pregnant pauses waiting for cues or entrances to the doors slamming on heads and walking into furniture. To get it all that wrong takes real practice and skill.

A play about a play turning into a disaster is not an original idea, we have the Ferndale series, for instance, or even Noises Off, and perhaps it had to be really over the top to make it an affectionate poking of fun at amateur theatre – after all I have seen many amateur productions that would not look out of place on the professional stage – but whatever, The Play That Goes Wrong does just that and if it doesn’t make you laugh and laugh and laugh  . . . suspect Kyaniddy. To 03-04-14

Roger Clarke



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