The Play That Goes Wrong
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 11 June 2022
The original cast of one of the funniest plays of the century have reunited for just last week's trip to Manchester and this week's trip to Newcastle. The result is a proper five star comedy that had the audience laughing throughout and on their feet for an ovation.
So Rob Falconer (Trevor), Dave Hearn (Max), Henry Lewis (Robert), Charlie Russell (Sandra), Jonathan Sayer (Dennis), Henry Shields (Chris), Greg Tannahill (Jonathan) and Nancy Zamit (Annie) were planning to be back together tonight. However - doing a show in the middle of a pandemic will always cause things to go wrong and tonight the role of Dennis/Butler Perkins was performed perfectly by understudy Harry Boyd, who made his debut with the company tonight.
The theatre was packed, so clearly word has got out that this is a "must-see" show. Indeed the key to great comedy is to appear to be lax and haphazard but to actually have the comedy choreographed to within an inch of its life. Not that there are moments when the fourth wall is expected to be broken - tonight I suspect that there was at least one moment when he audience were not always reacting as expected. Like a music gig though, this is a three ring circus and the audience and its reaction is very much a part of the visceral experience.
The show has had a minor update...when crew member Trevor announces that his Duran Duran music collection has gone missing - it is no longer on tape and it is now a CD.
So what is the organised chaos all about? The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society has raised enough funding to put on a proper show and they have gone for a murder mystery - as opposed to previous disasters as "Cat" or "James, where's your peach?"
This is a show that begins as the audience enters. "Crew" members are still trying to get the set ready. Some of the props are less co-operative including a door that refuses to close.
Now normally I would talk about the plot in the first 20 minutes of a show and then leave the rest to be revealed when you attend the show...but I don't want to really spoil even the pre-start shenanigans. In short, you'll want to get there about 20 minutes before the published start time.
Henry Shields then opens the proceedings as director Chris Bean. He lists the failures of the drama group to date and you quickly get the idea that they want this show to be different. From the very start of the proper play things go wrong. Film reviewer Mark Kermode suggests that a comedy should make you laugh at least 6 times - this show has probably hit that figure for most people within 5 minutes of the official start time.
This leads us to an interesting part of the set up, and I'll use Henry as the example. Henry is playing Chris who is also playing Inspector Carter. As a result the programme is effectively in two halves - the front is the Cornley Poly programme listing that the Inspector is played by Chris and the second half is the Play That Goes Wrong programme stating that the role of Chris is played by Henry.
So imagine a whodunnit in which the cast will walk into pillars, props are in the wrong place and the corpses forget that they are supposed to be dead. Add in fantastic comedic timing and some real magic of theatre and you have one of the most entertaining shows currently on tour.
Who is it suitable for? I took my son to see the original cast years ago. He loved it. Now he is approaching 20 and he still loves it - even though we have both seen it a few times. So it is suitable for kids (officially it runs for just over 2 hours including interval). It is also a show that you'll want to see again.
It is not a panto. It is not exactly a farce either - but there are elements of both. My son calls it the perfect comedy. And do you know what...he may be right.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
The Play That Goes Wrong plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 6 – Saturday 11 June 2022. Tickets are priced from £15.00 and can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.