Fresh from seasons of Cat and Two Sisters (there were casting issues, don’t ask), the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society presents a season of the murder mystery, The Murder at Haversham Manor.
The poor cast was plagued by disaster after disaster- slow lighting cues, misplaced props, forgotten lines and many injuries, yet they displayed impressive perseverance in the face of adversity. It was extraordinary to see the lengths to which the actors went to ensure that the play could continue, showing high enthusiasm and adaptability to difficult circumstances.
The Play That Goes Wrong is a fast paced comedy à la Death at a Funeral where the situation for the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s production of The Murder at Haversham Manor goes from bad to worse to ridiculous. The comedy begins even before the proverbial curtain goes up. The stage crew is scurrying around on stage and enlist a member of the audience to help out (sweeping, holding shelves in place). This is an excellent way to set the tone for a night of silliness and laughter.
The set is sumptuous and detailed – a sitting room in a lavish, English manor, with equally detailed costuming. The strong ensemble cast are to be commended as it can be difficult to render such (deliberately) overblown acting that is enjoyable to watch. There are some genuinely impressive physical feats as they attempt to hold the set (and the play) together. However, what is most impressive is the direction (Original UK direction by Mark Bell, Australian revival by Sean Turner and James Marlowe) and stage management (Anneke Harrison, and her Deputy and Assistant Natalie Rowan and Bridget James) that make every small disaster happen with split second comic timing
Unfortunately, while it is enjoyable, it is a bit of one gag show. The slapstick is fun, but I personally did tire of it after a while. I occupied myself a lot of the show trying to work out exactly what was going to happen next (I should have bet myself-I was often right). The lighting/sound guy (shout out to actor Adam Dunn) was positioned up in a box at the front of the theatre clearly visible to the audience which was a show in itself just to watch his reactions as things unraveled on stage.
Absurd, and farcical (in the best sense), the murder mystery story of the play takes a backseat to the physical comedy. It is undoubtedly well-executed with perfectly timed gags that expose the contrivances of theatre that we usually just accept. Advertising likened the show to Monty Python- this is perhaps true in a Ministry of Silly Walks way, but for the most part it doesn’t offer as much of an insight into human behaviour as Monty Python can. Rather it’s more Noises Off meets The Mousetrap. It’s pure, silly, escapist fun with a couple of rare belly laughs along the way.
The Play That Goes Wrong is now playing in QPAC’s Concert Hall until May 14.