THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG New Theatre 16 February 2014

LOL in a Manor of Speaking


Just like Cardiff buses you might not see a smash hit from an Edinburgh fringe festival for months and then two come along almost together (only joking Cardiff – please don’t take my bus pass away). Last week it was the revival of Hannah and Hanna (the performance of which will always be remembered with affection), and this week it’s The Play that Goes Wrong ‘performed’ at the New Theatre. This play’s performance would be instantly forgettable if it were not for the fact that it is no ordinary play.

The Play is the work of the Mischief Theatre, one of the UK’s best improvisation and comedic companies and is produced jointly by Kenny Wax and Mark Bentley. Under the guise of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society they attempt to put on a 1920s murder mystery, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong does, as the accident prone thespians battle on against all the odds to get to their final curtain call.

Cornley Polytechnic Society is presenting The Murder at Haversham Manor. Before the play begins the audience, minus those still in the theatre bar, witness the lighting and sound engineer, played by Rob Falconer, scouring the circle seats looking for a lost box set Duran Duran CDs whilst Cornley’s stage manager Alys Metcalf is trying to secure the mantelpiece that has fallen off (she should have used sticky backed plaster!).

The title of the Polytechnic’s play is Murder at Haversham Manor and it is not long before Charles Haversham has been murdered. Greg Tannahill does everything he can aided and abetted by the rest of the cast, to keep his character alive and unlike the dead parrot in the famous Python sketch he isn’t lacking in movement. I guess rigor mortis hadn’t set in.

A form of slapstick comedy, reminiscent of the best farces but with an unique twist, ensued that was well orchestrated in line with a whole host of special effects and prop failures that usually surprised or wowed, or is that oooooed, the very appreciative audience. Whilst everything around them was going wrong or collapsing it was the performance of the cast, an excellent script and brilliant direction that makes this a great hit (of which there are several during the performance).


 The pivotal character was the police inspector Carter, seen here in the raincoat, played by Henry Shields. As well as playing out his character role he is the Director of the play and the apologetic communicator for the more than amateurish performance the audience were witnessing.

Dave Hearn, in the cricket pullover, was particularly memorable for his performance as Cecil Haversham taking almost every conceivable opportunity to play to the audience. The gardener who appeared later in the second half had more than a passing resemblance to Cecil.

Poor acting and a penchant for mispronouncing words, OMEENOOOS (ominous) were the trademarks of Perkins, the butler played by Jonathan Sayer seen hear handing out the less than appreciated alcohol. His performance was reminiscent of a stand-in for Manuel in Flowery T**ts, or something like that.

Charlie Russell plays the deceased’s femme fatale fiancée Florence Colleymore, resplendently dressed in red.

Mayhem ensues when Florence, is knocked out and when she comes round she ends up having to fight to regain her role from the stage manager (Alys Metcalf) who refuses to leave the stage. Metcalf was excellent in her stand-in role but not so good at DIY.

Spectacular collapses of the set (see below) are some of the perils the cast face. One false move, one momentary lapse in concentration, and a disaster beckons — especially for Florence’s brother Thomas (played by Thomas Lewis) seen here in danger of sliding off the set whilst the gardener looks on from above.



Take more than a sidelong glance at this production and you will laugh until your belly aches and the tears roll down your face. What of the finale, is the villain exposed or does someone else suffer that fate during the investigation? What became of the Duran Duran box set?

What we do know is the laughter rarely stopped and that may have been responsible for the unusually long queue outside the ladies toilet after the show. What we also know is that you only have tonight and tomorrow to see it……………………… don’t miss it!

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