The Play That Goes Wrong
January 29-February 3
Certainly does what it says on the can – when this production goes wrong, it really does go wrong. It is also extremely odd to review something about which you know nothing; the programme maintains the fiction, or maybe delusion, about a play called ‘Murder at Haversham Manor’, performed by an
exceptionally ambitious amdram company, one where all the cast is badly in need of a dram. But like most of the props, whisky is not in the jar-o, and has gone sadly awry.
Right from the start, and I mean, when entering the theatre, not the auditorium, the director is running round yelling at some unfortunate soul, and as the curtain rises, finishing touches are frantically being made to the set, an obliging member of the audience being called upon to assist. The action takes place in the exceedingly lavish drawing room of the Manor, and more so in the study, periously, up a height on the right above the library. Surprisingly, for a farce, there is but one door (which on cue, refuses to open), although you could count the ornate lift and there is of course a secret passage as well. Plus a very revealing window.
Although the play should be set in a vicarage, so much of a curate’s egg, when it is good, it really is terrifically funny. The second half is much sharper, more focused, with even the scenery taking part, and spectacularly so. However, although running jokes are one thing, a stalwart in fact, much play is made of repetition and one scene would give déjà vu a bad name, going on and on and on until it is in danger of milking every bit of laughter out of the rest of the evening. That said, dialogue in places is either exquisitely mismatched with the action or else complements it; for example, one character, precariously spreadeagled, explains to somebody on the telephone that they are ‘not in a position to talk right now’.
They say it’s not easy to act drunk and similarly, it must be tricky to act acting badly really well but the cast rise to the occasion, above and beyound, hamming it up for all they’re worth, from Steven Rostanze as Jonathan Harris, aka Charles Haversham’s very lively corpse, to the manic Jake Curran who along with the role of Insector Carter is the man wholly responsible for all this, from Director downwards. Kazeem Tosin Amore is a worthy successor to Buster Keaton as the unfortunate Thomas Colleymore, his sober sidekick/accomplice, Benjamin McMahon being the butler, Perkins. Best of a very good bunch was the irrepressible Cecil Haversham, played by Bobby Hirston as the most amateurish of the lot, completely over the top, gesticulating and grinning wildly at the audience’s response. And not much more sedate as Aruthur the Gardener, having to grapple with an invisible dog.
But let’s not forget the leading ladies – how could we when they spent most of the time doing just that, with a right hook.When Charles’ fiancée, Florence Colleymore (Elena Valentine) is carted off unconscious, one of the backstage crew, Shirley Timble (Louisa Sexton) is called upon to stand in, and despite little mishaps like dropping the script so all the pages get mixed up, takes to it with gusto: a Star is Born, and the most vicious catfight breaks out, Their fighting is wonderfully choreographed, in and out, up and down, providing some of the biggest laughs of the evening.
Once again, it was good to see the theatre packed to the rafters. And for a play that goes wrong, judging by the delighted reception, it pretty much got everything right.