The Play That Goes Wrong At York Grand
Andrew Liddle, Features Writer
If something can go wrong, it will go wrong! The name of this law might be uncouth but there is no doubting its validity – after having seen The Play That Goes Wrong, at York Grand Opera House. It is the brain child of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, three stalwarts of Mischief Theatre, a company specialising in comedies about things going a little awry. Formed in 2008 by a group of students from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, everything they choose to burlesque seems in actual fact to go eminently right and this delightful spoof has proved a huge international hit, much awarded and commended.
Imagine an earnest troupe of young actors, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, who are not greatly blessed with talent or luck when it comes to their current production of Murder at Haversham Manor. It happens to be one of those grotesquely over-plotted Agatha Christie-style period murder-mysteries set in a big house, peopled by stock characters. Unfortunately from the very beginning, and even before, everything messes up yet, nothing daunted, they carry on regardless, busking it, winging it, extemporising for all they are worth, determined to get the job done. The worse things get, the more they over-act in compensation and the more hammy their gestures become. Some choose to stick to the script even when the content becomes absurdly inappropriate, others try to improvise, somehow contriving to make matters worse, if that were possible!
As anybody who has ever been involved in amateur dramatics will know props have a nasty habit of being in the wrong place. Doors jam or sag open. Cues can be missed or taken early. These things happen. In this play, they happen all the time, in fact they are the delightful norm. In one hysterical ten-minute interlude, four actors become trapped in time, going frenziedly round and around the same bit of script, the theatrical equivalent of those hapless car drivers condemned forever to orbit city centre one-way systems. Members of the stage crew have to hastily step into the limelight when actors become indisposed (knocked out by a swinging door, for example) – and really rather enjoy their moment of fame. When the set collapses spectacularly and the average actor would decamp these guys bravely camp.
Jake Curran strikes an increasingly frustrated figure as the director, making his debut and desperate for success, who has cast himself in the role of detective. He plods on gamely in search of the guilty party long after anybody cares. Steven Rostance is suitably stiff as the play’s raison d'être, the body, but is far from inert and later mysteriously finds himself having to spring to life. Bobby Hirston is the star comic turn as the roguish brother of the deceased, who rather like Bottom, the weaver in another ‘most lamentable comedy’, warms to the audience’s applause and steps out of role to acknowledge it, bigging his part up enthusiastically, taking bows and throwing winks.
Elena Valentine, as our femme fatale, possesses all the robust elasticity of a circus contortionist, as well as fine comic timing, as she is pulled and tugged about by one and all, extruded through windows, compressed into a grandfather clock and beaten about the head by her understudy. Catherine Dryden excels as the willing Geordie lass, the stage hand, who having got the part by default is unwilling to give it back again, which, er, explains why for much of the closing stages there are two actresses on stage in the same role, sort of sharing the one costume.
Kazeem Tosin Amore struts around magnificently in plus fours, affecting a bizarre posh accent as the aristocratic brother of the girl, determinedly protecting her honour long after she has misplaced it, whilst Benjamin McMahon is magnificently wooden as the limping butler played by an actor who can’t act or even pronounce long words.
This is slapstick of the highest order and it relies on impeccable timing. When things go wrong they are actually going right. One hesitates to think what might happen if things actually did go wrong with scenery collapsing all over the place. Perish the thought!
It will tickle you to death if you haven’t seen it before – and you’ll probably die of laughter if you have. It’s a killer, this murder mystery!
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG is at the Grand Opera House, York, until 19th May.
The Play That Goes Wrong At York Grand, 16th May 2018, 14:51 PM