The play-within-a-play motif is certainly nothing new but Mischief Theatre's The Play That Goes Wrong feels a world away from Hamlet and its ilk.
The overall plot sees the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society take on Murder At Haversham Manor as their latest low-budget/no-budget drama production. Peopled by a motley crew of am-dram enthusiasts, the hapless Society’s attempt to stage this 1920s mystery results in every calamity under the sun happening and then some.
The company-behind-the-company has already put on this production at the Rose Theatre, Kingston and the Trafalgar Studio and the play's migration from fringe to the West End is neither surprising nor unwarranted. If middling and obvious fare like the National Theatre’s Great Britain can get a transfer, this slice of riotous fun deserves to go on to larger venues than the intimate Duchess Theatre.
If anything, The Play That Goes Wrong is the more British of the two plays, pitching as it does the audience’s support firmly behind a bunch of plucky underdogs while echoing some of this sceptred isle’s comedy greats. This could easily have been written by Frank Spencer with direction from Mr Bean such is its marvellous marriage of exquisitely-timed slapstick and non-verbal humour.
True, the script is occasionally hammier than a pig abattoir in high season with some gags falling flatter than M25 roadkill, but don’t walk out. Stick with it. If they renamed this The Play That Gets Better As It Goes Along, it wouldn’t be an inaccurate title for writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields save the best until the fag end of the two-hour running time.
The concept here is not a million miles from Spymonkey’s superlative Cooped but the performances here lack the latter’s crispness and physicality. What sets Mischief Theatre’s production apart, though, is Nigel Hook’s beyond-genius set design which provides everything from silly sight gags to some mind-boggling grand scale carnage. Go for the slapstick, stay for the comedy mayhem.
The Play That Goes Wrong is booking the Duchess Theatre through to February 2015. Tickets from £20. More information can be found on the production's website. Londonist attended on a press ticket.