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May 1, 2017
Review: The Play That Goes Wrong
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel

Every director and stage manager knows only too well how many things can go wrong with any given performance. Hopefully, though, no stage manager has ever experienced a production as utterly catastrophic as The Play That Goes Wrong. This new Broadway play (previously on the West End) takes every director’s nightmare and amplifies it by 100%. The result is an uproarious theatrical experience unlike any other – and one that will have you laughing until your sides ache.

Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, and directed by Mark Bell, The Play That Goes Wrong follows the Cornley University Drama Society as they struggle to perform a classic whodunnit called “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” As the play progresses, every possible thing that could go wrong does, in fact, go wrong. Relatively small mistakes like actors forgetting lines and props being in the wrong places gradually give way to more drastic problems like a rapidly deteriorating set and several minor concussions. “Dead” characters refuse to stay dead, the lighting and sound operator misses his cue, doors jam, and the major plot twist at the end is accidentally revealed about two acts too soon.

In short, it’s a complete disaster; but somehow the cast and crew soldier on despite incredible odds, carrying the play through to its bitter – or perhaps fortuitous – end.

The Play That Goes Wrong will have you laughing nonstop from the first moment to the last Click To Tweet
Of course, it’s all a pretense: the show you’re really here to watch is not in fact “The Murder at Havisham Manor,” but The Play That Goes Wrong. Despite that, the cast keeps up the illusion offstage as well as on, getting into character well before the performance starts and continuing the pretense during intermission, which means, inevitably, that more things go wrong.

As the clueless yet determined members of the Cornley University Drama Society, each cast member performs with unique comic flair. Dave Hearn comes across as both woefully inexperienced and adorable, and Charlie Russell’s character takes melodrama to a whole new level. Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields are equally adept at playing inadept actors, and Rob Falconer and Nancy Zamit are hilarious as the backstage crew who eventually get pulled into the play itself – with tragic results. As the dead body that won’t stay dead, Greg Tannahill is equally hysterical, and his moment of slowly dawning horror when he realizes he’s given away the ending two hours early is comic perfection.

We might speculate on what it means that there’s now a Broadway play about a Broadway play going wrong, and that it’s so popular with theater-goers. Does this, perhaps, say something about how saturated our culture has become with entertainment? Or does it merely prove that we like watching people fail?

The answer is anyone’s guess, but one thing is certain: The Play That Goes Wrong will have you laughing nonstop from the first moment to the last. “The Murder at Haversham Manor” may be a disaster, but The Play That Goes Wrong is a brilliant success.

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Written by: Erin Kahn
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