THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at Bath Theatre Royal

The Play That Goes Wrong

Get a bunch of actors together and after a few drinks you may hear a tendency to overact, such is the natural tendency to escape from the rigours of naturalism, realism and suchlike, which crab the genetic imperative to shine forth. Much hilarity usually ensues. Well now, if you pay said actors to do just that (without the drinking – probably) with the object of sharing the joy amongst the paying public and you might get something like The Play That Goes Wrong.

The cunning wheeze of having a bunch of amateurs murdering a play about murder at a country house gives ample scope for all the melodramatic overacting you could possibly want. Add to this a hackneyed plot, the inanity and irrelevance of which sets the actors free of any duty to serve the author, throw in a set which joins in the overacting and the sails are set for a couple of hours of honest, sit-back-and let-it-wash-over-you, unalloyed fun.

Imagine Frank Spencer putting on a murder mystery and you have just about the level of production values of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society. In short, if it can go wrong it will. In order to achieve this level of chaos of course takes great skill and Nigel Hook’s very clever set allows the actors to get the most out of the mayhem and would have done Buster Keaton proud in the precision of its destruction.

Mark Bell’s direction has allowed the cast full rein to explore the possibilities of unbridled melodrama and in a nice touch, is not afraid of the odd deafening silence. The gloriously vampish Florence (Charlie Russell) poses her way through the play with shameless zeal as the bereaved fiancée of the much abused, lively corpse, Charles Haversham (Greg Tannahill). Dave Hearn, as Cecil Haversham, takes the honours for ‘gesture acting’ whilst Jonathan Sayer wins the award for ‘most stock-like stage butler’, complete with variable age and decrepitude. It’s all marvellously over-the-top and I suspect what most actors would secretly love to do. The whole cast grab the opportunity with both hands.

This is a farce, devised and written by members of the cast, which invites and gets its fair share of belly laughs and is probably destined to become a firm favourite with repertory theatres and am-dram groups the length and breadth of the nation. In this production by Mischief Theatre, which will be transferring to the West End after its UK tour, the bar has been set satisfyingly high. ★★★★☆ Graham Wyles