London Theatre Review: The Play That Goes Wrong (5 Year Anniversary)

Posted on 11 September 2019

We knew we were in for something special when we attended the 5 year anniversary of The Play That Goes Wrong (tickets from £24), booking until November 1st at London’s Duchess Theatre. It’s been heralded as Fawlty Towers meets Noises Off and showered with as many five-star reviews as the best-selling smash-hits. Everyone has had their say, from Ant and Dec to Joanna Lumley (“We laughed until tears ran down our faces”). You might ask - has the whole world gone slapstick-crazy? Well, no, not exactly...

The Play That Goes Wrong is an antidote to all the theatre you saw and didn't enjoy. All those long stuffy performances with rigid actors and dreary sets. The whole production is outrageously slapstick and unashamedly melodramatic. It wears its heart on its sleeve from start to finish, leaning away from the tight-lipped irony we associate with some metatheatre and throwing all its inexhaustible energy into upending those predictable and well-oiled British whodunnits. 

They set fire to the most sacred rules, readily hopping over the fourth wall and occasionally inviting the audience onstage to partake in the madness (during the pre-show amble, while everyone is still milling through the auditorium, one of the audience was invited onstage to help build the set and hold a few props). There are also brilliantly improvised intervals of audience interaction and genuinely hilarious performances from the whole cast.

The story follows an amateur dramatic team – the as yet undistinguished Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society – on their way to making it big with a sophisticated 1920s murder mystery, the “Murder At Haversham Manor”. But what will it all lead to? The West End...? And beyond that, who knows? Fortunately for us, what transpires is a wonderful cascade of flowing chaos as the walls cave in (literally at times) and the ensemble wrestle to protect their dream, maintain their dignity and uphold that old adage: “the show must go on”. 

The choreography is spectacular, seeming to unravel with faultless precision to make a soaring symphony of the total chaos. It's pretty daring at times as well - swinging from ceiling lights, standing in falling window frames as the walls collapse inwards, inches from a stagehand's shoulders, wielding grandfather clocks, dodging falling chandeliers and all the while persevering a hilarious unity of flustered spirit - even after the script is disassembled and thrown back together in no particular order.

Just when you think the mishaps can't be escalated any further, the pantomimes are amped-up, with missing dogs and misplaced props and a uniquely British farce of heightened failure in which no one, not even the sound crew, are exempt from being roped into the performance. It wins you over early and keeps you on board at a fast, thrilling pace! Ultimately, you find yourself willing them to get it right - a few well-delivered lines, and you think, could it be…! Of course not - true to the air of rebellion this is a choreographed catastrophe to its last cacophonic note. There are no thespians here, just a lovable group of actors defiantly resisting their worst nightmare and balancing candlesticks and wistfully eyeing ornate paintings of spaniels, instead of family ancestors.

In The Play That Goes Wrong the dream machine malfunctions and spews out smoke and churned-up props, eliciting belly-laughter and raucous heckles and a standing ovation or two. It doesn't come as much of a surprise that the writers are three friends, who've ingeniously turned a small living room project into a five-year West End run and Broadway smash-hit worthy of multiple awards and droves of chuckling theatre fans.

Pick up The Play That Goes Wrong tickets from £24!

Book your tickets to this beautifully choreographed catastrophe by 1 November, starting at just £24!

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