Words by Lucy Mounfield / Production pics by Helen Murray
On Monday 19th June, The Play That Goes Wrong will bring theatrical disaster to Birmingham REP’s House stage – as produced and performed by the Mischief Theatre Company. The Play That Goes Wrong will be running daily (except Sundays) until Saturday 24th June. Matinee performances will be held on Thursday 22nd and Saturday 24th June at 2pm.
Standard tickets start from £15 with matinees from £10. For direct event information, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.
The Play That Goes Wrong is written by co-authors Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, whose first production, Let’s See What Happens, was devised by the former LAMDA students in 2008. The Play That Goes Wrong depicts the very opposite to the multi-award-winning trajectory that Mischief Theatre have taken.
This meta-theatrical experience of a play within a play has been running for five years (on the West End since 2014) and builds upon the tradition of turning amateur performance disaster into comic triumph. The premise is simple: The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are putting on a 1920’s murder mystery, but as the title suggests this does not go to plan. Think Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap meets Fawlty Towers, as the wannabe thespians cringingly carry on ‘against all the odds to reach their final curtain call, hilarious results ensue!’
But this well received farce is certainly this is no amateur production; Mischief Theatre are getting it wrong perfectly. This comes in many forms: slapstick, travesty, set malfunctions and miss-communications between the actors of the drama society who really are learning on the job. The Play That Goes Wrong promises physical humor such as planks of wood knocking out actors, but will this get too much for the real audience watching a play that is depicting another play going wrong? Does this kind of farce have to be believable, or is it simply about the hi-jinks?
What springs to mind when thinking about a play within a play genre is the ridiculous Michael Frayn play Noises Off – considered by many the greatest of all backstage farces. Noises Off manages to create nuanced characters and personality conflicts to explain away the comic failings of their play, thereby producing something akin to the believable. The National Theatre’s One Man Two Guvnors (which in my opinion was the funniest play I have ever seen) may not be a backstage based narrative, but utilises the artistic components of slapstick to full effect – by setting up a story and the characters motivation, the chaos that ensued was far funnier and quite often surprising.
The Play That Goes Wrong surely further takes influence from Morecambe and Wise’s Play’s Wot Erne Wrote, in which Morecambe and Wise invite a celebrity guest to star in one of Ernie’s plays (of course, it goes wrong as its badly written, badly acted and no one has a clue what is going on). But the play within a play tradition works well here because of the unsuspecting guest’s attempt to act whilst the others don’t, in turn making them look ever more the fool.
The Play That Goes Wrong has been running solidly in London’s West End and on Broadway, winning a slew of awards including an Olivier for Best New Comedy. So once more we tread the precarious boards of a play within a play, one that promises to push the boundaries of this genre even further and I suspect my laughter even louder.
The Play That Goes Wrong – Mischief Theatre
The Play That Goes Wrong runs at the Birmingham REP from 19th to 24th June – on the theatre’s House stage. For direct event info and online tickets sales, click here.
For more on Mischief Theatre, visit www.mischieftheatre.co.uk
For more from the Birmingham REP, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit www.birmingham-rep.co.uk