Wednesday 22 March 2017

The Murder At Haversham Manor*

Curve, Leicester
20th March, 2017

Following their less than successful productions of Cats, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and James and the Giant Peach, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society have regrouped to present the classic whodunnit The Murder at Haversham Manor. I wish I could say their efforts were more rewarding this time, but, alas, this production was a catastrophe of wobbly sets, forgotten cues and nauseatingly amateurish acting.

It would be difficult to single out anyone in particular for praise as the entire company seemed to be involved in a contest of one-upmanship to decide who could deliver their lines in the most inappropriate, wildly erratic, or downright daft manner. However, Dennis Tyde was especially out of his depth in the role of loyal butler, Perkins, his mispronunciations and apparent lack of awareness of what was going on around him was astounding, while a gawping Max Bennet was equally clueless as Cecil Haversham (yet, inexplicably, seemed exceedingly pleased with himself). Director/Designer/Dramaturg/Voice Coach/Choreographer/Actor Chris Bean tried his best to hold the dismal proceedings together, but his desperation was palpable and I left feeling nothing but pity for the man who was but a twitch away from a full on nervous breakdown.

Yet all this pales in comparison to the shoddy production values. Collapsing furniture, forgotten music cues and flaming props ensured the play descended into chaos. A health and safety nightmare, the deathtrap of a set did its utmost to injure and inebriate the already floundering cast. The evening was nothing less than a hotchpotch of pandemonium, bloodshed (not of the fake kind) and confusion. The most, though faint, indeed, praise I can give the company is that their efforts to ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ were commendable however unadvisable. 

*The Play That Goes Wrong is an absolute masterclass in farce. It delivers what it says on the tin, and then some. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, and the result is one of the most hysterical nights out at the theatre I’ve had in a long time.

The play exemplifies perfect comic timing, expertly choreographed pitfalls (there is a skill in making something look so dangerous!), and a cast which are thoroughly dedicated in making you both root for and pity them (cheers and applause were almost as common occurrence as laughter). I don’t want to give away too much, as some of the stunts must be seen to be believed, but the precision that must be involved in creating such mayhem is astounding. While it might seem natural to focus on the slapstick elements of a farce, mention must also go to the superbly performed word play – circular scenes, unwitting puns, misread lines – all build the comedic momentum, and the play as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, as each line brilliantly complements the physical action.

The cast are the epitome of ‘teamwork’ as they gel and feed off of each other so well. There is more than a slight resemblance to a young Peter Sellers in Patrick Warner’s gangly Chris Bean, his frustration and anger are kept bubbling just under the surface as his hopes and aspirations crumble before his eyes. Katie Bernstein is a gem as the naïve stage manager who overcomes her stage fright to upstage the leading lady (a hilariously overblown Meg Mortell), while Jason Callender (Jonathan/Charles Haversham) almost steals the show with his ‘playing dead’ act.

The Play That Goes Wrong is the most raucous, belly-laugh inducing show around and I defy anyone not to leave the theatre with a smile. Mischief Theatre made their name with this personification of Murphy’s Law and schadenfreude, and since then have gone from strength to strength, winning an Olivier award for Best Comedy, and making their debut on Broadway this week. Long may they reign in the realms of theatrical farce.

The Play That Goes Wrong plays at Curve until 25th March as part of a UK and Ireland tour. For all tour dates please visit
Credit: Helen Murray

No comments:

Post a Comment