Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Play That Goes Wrong

Henry Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer
Mischief Theatre Company
Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford

Henry Shields and Henry Lewis Credit: Alistair Muir
Charlie Russell sitting on Greg Tannahill Credit: Alistair Muir
Help!!!! Credit: Alistair Muir

There are three writers for this show and they are also part of the cast, so they have only themselves to blame if they have to deal with some very tricky situations, not to mention ones that are also acrobatic and sometimes dangerous.

The cast list gives the names of the characters, but then there is a second cast list for the 1920s murder mystery that these characters are playing in the name of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society.

Confused? You will be but you will also be thoroughly and enjoyably entertained by this crazy company who (as their alter egos) feel ‘the show must go on’ no matter what happens around them, or which strange and inappropriate props are put in their hands.

It has all the ingredients for a farcical show and it could have been really silly—well I suppose it is—but the calibre of the acting and the witty, clever script, not to mention the absurd situations created, make sure that we live and laugh with them all the way through.

There are surprises, shocks, and times when the audience is holding it’s breath and wondering how on earth they are going to get out of the latest catastrophe, but somehow they do and manage to go from consternation (from the audience) to spontaneous, and relieved, laughter and applause.

The style of the show is obvious even as the audience are taking their seats as a hapless stage manager tries desperately to place two candlesticks on a mantlepiece which will not stay in place. This is a set which knows its own mind and has a few tricks up its sleeve, all brilliantly designed by Nigel Hook and constructed by the aptly named Splinter Scenery Ltd. There could have been a few real casualties if it had not have been built so well.

The cast overact shamelessly in melodramatic fashion with the murdered man’s fiancée Florence (Charlie Russell) creating (she thinks) dramatic and flattering poses. When she is concussed (don’t ask) she has to be hauled out of sight, but modesty prevails and her knickers must not show.

In is thrust stage manager and general dogsbody Annie Twilloil (Lotti Madox) with Florence’s frock over her work clothes. One of the joys of the show is her expression of absolute horror when realising she is in front of an audience, soon changing to one of triumph as she tries to outdo Florence.

There are doors which fly open or remain stubbornly shut, a temperamental elevator, wall hangings which fall down, a long-case clock to hide in and a study in grave danger of collapsing and sending its inhabitants flying, and then the final masterpiece of exceptionally perfect placing and timing as the show comes to a timely end. The whole is brilliantly directed by Mark Bell, who must have wondered what on earth he had got himself into.

A great deal of the enjoyment and fun comes from the expressions on the faces of the cast, playing the comedy completely straight as inept performers, and finding yet another hurdle to be overcome.

I tried, but it’s pretty well indescribable. All I can say is go and enjoy, you certainly won’t be disappointed unless, that is, there isn’t a ticket left.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor