So it's a play...and it goes wrong.
Yes, this production from Mischief Theatre Company simply does what the title suggests, but the comedy in its deconstruction of the play-within-a-play is hugely inventive.
'Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society' are putting on a show, a 1920s style whodunnit called 'The Murder at Havisham Manor'. Unexpectedly it turns into a comedy disaster. Everything that could possibly go wrong...does. Props go missing. Lighting and sound cues are missed (by the resident techie sat in the audience). Lines are missed, causing the script to go round in circles. Slowly but surely the set is utterly destroyed. And so much more. As one actor screams, "this set is a deathtrap".
Yet the actors plough on, slaves to the script no matter how badly things go. This in itself is cause for dramatic irony as they're trapped within a play with no choice but to reach its conclusion. Their scramble to hold things together is hilarity at its finest.
If Basil Fawlty were putting on a play, this is probably how it would turn out. The script has its moments of wit, but this is hardly deep satire. Rather, the focus is on visual and slapstick humour. A closer look behind the scenes may have provided some theatrical depth, but as pure entertainment goes it cannot be beaten. The absurd nature of the show is guaranteed to have you bent over crying with laughter.
Beneath the surface, though, the seamless production is incredible. Nigel Hook's set design is especially well constructed and Mark Bell's direction is highly polished. It may seem manic, but this is slick, organised chaos.
The actors' crazed and hammy over-acting is similarly underpinned by talent. The unravelling battle between Sandra (Charlie Russell) and Annie (Nancy Wallinger) to play the vampy female lead is particularly hilarious, whilst Dave Hearn's hapless Max gormlessly grinning at the audience after every applause is very sweet. As actor and director of the company Chris (Henry Shields) tries to hold it all together, his frustration is palpable. Mostly, this is a tour-de-force of comic timing from the whole cast.
The Play That Goes Wrong is an actor's worst nightmare. It's enough to put you off acting for life, but it's a joy to watch.
Watch: The Play That Goes Wrong runs at the Duchess Theatre until February 2015.
Ticket courtesy of Official Theatre.