Review: The Play That Goes Wrong @ Opera House, Manchester

“Firstly, I would like to apologise to those of you involved in our little box-office mix-up. I do hope those of you affected will enjoy our little murder mystery just as much as you would have enjoyed Rock of Ages.”

Mischief Theatre got it wrong in all the right ways on the opening night at the Opera House in Manchester. The combustible farce was, as expected, a welcome respite.

The Play That Goes Wrong follows the perfectly flawed Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as they perform their rendition of Murder at Haversham Manner.

We are told by the society’s director, played by Jake Curran, at the outset of the production that we are about to watch a 1920s whodunit, but, when the set becomes increasingly more temperamental and the cast’s tone grows evermore irate, hilarity ensues.

Before the director has even begun his pre-show speech, plenty has already gone wrong. Stagehands have scrambled through the galleries of the Opera House in a desperate attempt to find ‘Winston’, a black collie dog, and, as we later discover, a key member of the cast.

An audience member has also been pulled onstage to help hold up a mantelpiece that keeps falling off the set.

Directed by Mark Bell, the 12-strong company make full use of Nigel Hook’s Olivier Award-winning set design and the intricately planned fiascos never fail to set up a roar of laughter.

As the set continued to wear, so did the patience of the cast – especially that of the society’s director, who had cast himself as the dynamic Inspector.

After growing increasingly more frustrated with the plethora of disasters that had plagued his production from the outset, the murder-mystery, for a moment, transformed with a single ‘it’s behind you’ heckle.

Talking directly to the audience, the Inspector ‘breaks’ character to express his disgust at the panto-esque interaction that is beginning to erupt and those in attendance gain insight into just how intricate Bell’s production truly is.

Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathon Sayer and Henry Shields, the production has come a long way since its humble beginnings at the Old Red Lion Theatre in London.

The three friends, who all trained at the London Academy of Music and Art and founded Mischief Theatre in 2008, started out at the London and Edinburgh fringes before touring the UK and internationally. The play returned to the West End in 2014 and it is still running today.

Since embarking on its first tour, the production has attracted the attention of influential producers, including Kenny Wax and Mark Bentley, and the small theatre group has grown into one of the UK’s leading theatre companies.

In 2015, the play won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and the show continues to run at 20 other theatres worldwide, including on Broadway.

Award-winning film director J. J. Abrams made his debut as a theatrical producer of the Broadway production and the show also picked up a Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Play.

It takes great skill to execute such bungling and the cast pulled off every spit take perfectly. They wrestled with sticking doors, navigated scenes around missing props and persisted with malfunctioning machinery in their attempt to keep things on track.

The show’s runaway success speaks volumes and there is no doubt that ‘the piece will truly bring the house down’.

*The Play That Goes Wrong is showing at the Opera House, Manchester until Saturday, June 30. You can buy tickets HERE.

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