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The Play That Goes Wrong

Jonathan Sayer, Greg Tannahill, Henry Lewis,
Dave Hearn and Charlie Russell
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel)




                                                              By Eugene Paul


If you’ve come to the Lyceum Theatre out of a disturbed sense of enjoying the sheer irony which impelled you to go to the theatre to see something called “The Play that Goes Wrong” because the title so perfectly reflects the way you feel with regard to the current State of the Union, you are in for a pleasant surprise:  you’ve never been so right. The play is an utter shambles, just like real life.  There is one tiny difference:  it is meant to be. And you can safely recognize it. And laugh until it hurts.  Let it all hang out for a blissful couple of hours before you have to go back to the deliberately created shambles that is numbing us into a less and less horrified state as we get used to the dreading. Yes, it’s possible to be revolted and laugh at the same time.


In that beautifully proportioned Lyceum Theatre with its velvety awful seats there are representatives of an out of place backstage crew milling around, on stage and off, trying to finish up  on the English manor house setting, desperate last minute repairs which just will not take,  and it is almost time for the curtain to rise on the – what’s this? –the program says it’s the Cornley University Drama Society presentation of “The Murder at Haversham Manor”? No, no,no…Yes, yes, yes. Finished or no, it’s time, and out steps rather distressed, perfect pitch callow Chris Bean (perfect pitch callow Henry Shields, one of the three perpetrators – er, playwrights – who have perpetrated this farce) to introduce himself as director, producer, performer of this evening’s entertainment.  And we are already participating in his game. The show is going to be a delicious disaster, a disaster we can regale ourselves in, roll about with laughter.  We hope.


Hope is realized.  Curtain rises, mantel over fireplace falls off, door sticks, and corpse on chaise lounge has to remove his artfully fallen hand on the floor because the other actors keep stepping on it as they vigorously stride about proclaiming ineptitudes, as things, all kinds of things, indeed, do go wrong.  And the laughter builds.  We’re enjoying these fortunate misfortunes  as they are explicated and expounded upon by the fake ancient Haversham family butler Denis (Jonathan Sayer, another of the wicked trio of playwrights (?) who brought this on) vigorously overacting and ingeniously coping with everything that continues to go wrong. Asinine bliss.




BWW Review: Brit-Farce THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG Literally Brings Down The House

Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Dave Hearn
 Henry Shields (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)


would be futile to try to enumerate all the things that could go wrong  -- and do – but it must in all admiration be said that instead of being plagued by all  the damn fool things, damneder and damneder, they don’t pall! And that is the genius that director Mark Bell and his remarkably sturdy – have to be – ever coping company of madmen and women absolutely shine at. Things can’t get worse, can’t get funnier?  Blam!  I do hope they have a full medical staff backstage.  This is slapstick with a vengeance.


Farce, the mad, most delectable of comedy forms –so sue me – is the most difficult to pull off. And Brits just get the zanyness right. This entire company of neophyte farceurs is, praise be, filling big shoes in the farcical world and dancing off with honors.  And bruises, too, no doubt. Who murdered Lord Haversham? His ardent fiancée, Sandra (amazing Charlie Russell)?  Nay, it must be her brother, Thomas Collemore, the gamekeeper (actually Henry Lewis, the third of the wretched playwrights who wrote this whole thing, also very good at emotioning.  Sometimes.) Or—could it be dead Lord Haversham’s very much alive brother, Cecil (that grinning, endearing Dave Hearn  who cannot help expressing his joy when the audience finds his antics adorable.) Couldn’t have been that oafish, awful sound engineer, Trevor (dismayingly funny Rob Falconer), could it?  Or Annie? (Terrific understudy Bryony Corrigan) the devoted backstage slavey who lusts for the limelight?


Whatever. Whoever. Not much left at the ravaged end of designer Nigel Hook’s cunningly calculated setting, or designer Roberto Surace’s costumes. But dead Lord Haversham’s corpse (very alive Greg Tannahill), even though carried off in a most unusual manner, continues to surprise, studded with moments of giddy idiocy. We do ache from laughing.  As well as from those seats. Go.  Have a good time.  You deserve it.


The Play that Goes Wrong.  At the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street.  Tickets:  $30-$139. 212-239-6200. 2 hrs. Open run.