Jonathan Sayer, Greg Tannahill, Henry
Dave Hearn and Charlie Russell
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
By Eugene Paul
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.
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.
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.
Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Dave
and Henry Shields (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
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.
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?
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.
Play that Goes Wrong. At the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street.
Tickets: $30-$139. 212-239-6200. 2 hrs. Open run.