Anyway, that’s over for now, so I am trying to recover what little is left of my sanity by thinking about other things than having people yelling in my ear about the election all the time. In any event, Bonnie and I went to see The Play That Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields of London’s Mischief Theatre, which is currently on tour throughout the US, the other day and I have to say that it just may be the funniest thing I have ever seen in a theatre. Now, it did win the 2015 Olivier award as the “Best New Comedy” for its West End production prior to coming to Broadway and then going on tour through the U.S., so it’s obvious that I’m not the only one who enjoyed the performance (the Omaha audience was very vocal much of the time), but I think that people with a history in the theatre (especially amateur [that is, “non-professional”] theatre) are probably especially appreciative.
You see, this play is about a British collegiate theatre society’s production of a “classic” murder mystery (which I believe was clearly patterned after the mystery plays of Agatha Christie) and during which almost every one of the nightmare scenarios which has ever occurred to any member of ANY theatrical company comes to pass. I do have to admit that I thought the attempt to imply that the play was at a U.S. university didn’t really work, and that the show would not have been hurt by leaving it set at a British university, where drama “societies” are often almost completely student operated with little involvement on the part of faculty, or staff, or so I am led to believe. Yes, this pattern does still exist in the US, but it’s not very common, in my experience. The US pattern at present seems to include some sort of faculty leadership and formal coursework leading to a degree in Theatre or Drama. I don’t think that this is true at most UK universities, where I believe degrees in theatre are less likely to be granted directly by universities, than through specialized schools and “academies,” like the RADA, the LAMDA, etc. Still, this is a minor quibble which really isn’t a problem, so much as a distraction which calls attention to the British roots of the production.
I’m going to try to not give away too many of the “secrets” of the production, but (as suggested) anyone who has every been involved in any sort of theatrical production will recognize some of the events of this script. Dropped lines, missed entrances, and misplaced props are all present, usually in more than one form, and lead to situations which are both recognizable and hysterical. This is the main reason why I think anyone who is, or has been, in a theatrical production just HAS to see this production. Perhaps it’s enough to suggest that if something can go wrong for a group of actors, it does in this script.
However, it isn’t just that actors can have difficulties. No, the techies are not forgotten by any means. As someone who spent his career mostly working in tech theatre, I confess that I recognized far too many of the tech-related situations which came up during the play, although I’d like to believe that few of them actually occurred during productions I was involved with. Lights, sound, props, sets and set decoration, costumes, stage management all come in for their laughs in this hysterical performance. Thankfully, there is no human flight involved in this script, but I can only imagine what must happen during Peter Pan Goes Wrongby the same authors. (On the other hand, I suspect that my old student, Delbert Hall, could tell some stories about productions ofPeter Panwhich even these authors couldn’t imagine.)
Needless to say, this show is “over the top” hysterical. From early on, one is not only laughing harder than I suspected was possible; but wondering how they could possibly top what’s just happened; and then they do…. If it can go wrong in this production, it does. It’s exhausting.
I have to express special appreciation for the Tony award winning scenic design of Nigel Hook. The demands which this script places on the set are awesome. Again, I won’t give away “secrets,” but I could figure out how a lot of the stuff was done (at least I have some ideas as to how they might be done), but there were things happening on that set that I have no real idea how I’d even attempt to accomplish. Now, I’m not going to brag, but I was able to accomplish some things over the years that had audiences guessing about how they were done, or at least they, sometimes, did ask me how I made some effect happen. (In fact, usually some of the simplest, like scrim effects, seemed the most asked about.) I will admit to conferring with and seriously considering ideas for unusual effects from many of my students, especially my assistants. Usually, however, I had at least some inkling as to how to achieve an effect. In this case, however, the only possibilities that I have come up with to explain some of the effects in this production would seem be too expensive, or complicated, (I think) to be manageable, especially in a touring situation, so I’d love to know more about how some of these effects were executed.
In summary, the script (which I obtained a copy of at the performance) is way over the top crazy and doesn’t begin to flesh out everything in the performance. It’s a good deal more than a commedia scenario, though, as it is a complete script. What really makes the performance work, however, is the “schtick” which isn’t in the written script; but was (I’m willing to bet) added during rehearsal. There’s a lot of this, especially physical stuff, and there are also “bits” which are obviously “written” anew for each stop on the tour. The local Nebraska and Omaha references we had here would, obviously, have no meaning in Nashville, TN, for example, so I can’t imagine them being used there, but there’s probably something else inserted in the same spot.
Yes, it’s over the top! Yes, it’s completely crazy! Yes, it’s a darn good time. Yes, theatre folks will especially enjoy it! Yes, go see it if you can.
P.S. Yes, I really did like this show a lot!