Beginning life above a pub in Islington, Mischief Theatre's The Play That Goes Wrong (original title The Murder Before Christmas) has spent the last five years going from strength to strength. Having conquered the West End, Broadway, and the BBC's Christmas schedule for two years in a row, Mischief Theatre are back on the road and arrive to a packed auditorium ready for some Monday night laughs. The show delivered and then some, with slick slapstick stunts and just the right amount of improvised interactions with the audience.
When we first arrive in the auditorium there are early signs of how things will go amiss for the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, tonight performing Murder at Haversham Manor. Trevor, the company's lighting & sound operator, is on the lookout for the company's missing dog, while stage manager, Annie, is taping together the set with gaffer tape. The show-within-a-show's director's opening monologue welcomes us and hints at the other delicious failings of the Drama Society, caused by the limitations of an amateur dramatic group (and anyone who has acted in am-dram will be well aware of these). The play to be performed is one of murder and double-crossing in a snowstorm-hit country house. The plot doesn't really matter but it cheekily hints at some of a certain crime writer's famous stories.
As the show gets underway the errors start small, with missed entrances and misplaced props. But as with any good farce events escalate, with at least one member of the Drama Society incapacitated before the interval. The production is all held together by a committed, talented ensemble and it really can't be stressed enough the comedic prowess on display here. Each actor is given a moment to shine but the play is at its best when the momentum of events builds and sprawls out into larger comedic set pieces that take over the stage. I particularly liked how the pace would momentarily slow down midway through these sequences, lingering on the devastation that is unfolding.
There is a simple joy in watching a group of actors persevere through the increasing calamities of the show they are in. The audience wills them on to make it through each scene, to survive their night on stage and for the play to finally reach its conclusion. While The Play That Goes Wrong lacks some of the complexities of the great behind-the-scenes comedy Noises Off (there are none of the tears, tantrums and complicated relationships of Michael Frayn's play here) it does bring a warmth and heart to proceedings that goes beyond the achievements of the complicated slapstick.
If it isn't apparent at this point, I adore the works of Mischief Theatre. Their madcap evenings are wonderfully calamitous, all held together by a magnificent group of actors. The Play That Goes Wrong is a show guaranteed to leave you guffawing and chuckling throughout its sprightly two hours.