• Becky Wallis

The Play That Goes Wrong - Duchess Theatre London Review

Updated: Apr 28

When it comes to funny theatre here in the UK, there is one comedy that certainly know what they are doing and that is Mischief Comedy, the masterminds behind such hits as Magic Goes Wrong, the BBC Television series The Goes Wrong Show and of course The Play That Goes Wrong. This award-winning comedy has called London’s Duchess Theatre home for the last 7 years, and it’s still going strong, still making audiences of all ages laugh themselves silly. Speaking from experience, I can say ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ to pretty much anyone and they will know what I am talking about, even if they may not call themselves a theatre fan, and that is the appeal of this show, it speaks to the masses with its old school style of slapstick and silliness, whilst relating to those who have dabbled in amateur dramatics.


With its now well know play within a play format, ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ introduces us to the calamitous Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, led by director Chris (Mikhail Sen) as they attempt to stage a serious murder mystery play entitled The Murder at Haversham Manor. Each cast member plays a member of the drama society, in turn playing a character in the murder mystery, and each character brings their own level of chaos to proceedings. Lines get mixed up, surprising incidents cause all sorts of trouble, arguments amongst the Cornley cast mates spiral and the set has more than a few tricks up its sleeve.

A new cast took up residency at Haversham Manor recently and they have well and truly made it their own. Speaking as someone who has seen The Play That Goes Wrong multiple times (this was my eighth visit), I can honestly say that one the greatest things about it is how the book (written by Henry Shields, Henry Lewis, and Jonathan Sayer) allows each cast member to add their own special touch to the characters. They are able to tweak how they react to the audience and to things that happen in the show, making each performance completely unique.


Mikhail Sen plays the role of Cornley director Chris Bean, playing the role of inspector Carter within the murder mystery and he has the audience in stitches as he becomes increasingly frustrated at things going wrong. To anyone who has seen the show, you will know that a certain scene with Chris always gets a good reaction and a fair deal of heckling which is all part of the fun, and Sen handles it all well, earning a big laugh as he picks on members of the audience. Ashh Blackwood and Tomisin Ajani play the roles of stage manager Annie and tech manager Trevor respectively, two characters that build a great deal of interaction with the audience in the pre-show and two that you can’t help but cheer on when things going wrong push them out of their comfort zones. Blackwood’s Annie is hilarious throughout, especially showing her sassy side in the second act whilst Ajani was delighting audiences as the somewhat grumpy tech manager Trevor even before the show officially starts in the preshow, as with the lifting of restrictions some cast members (wearing masks) come back into the audience and Ajani revelled in it, getting people to stand up from their seats and all sorts.

Anya De Villier’s Sandra, playing the role of Florence Colleymoore, sees herself as star of the show, no matter what and De Villier’s has the audience in fits of laughter with her exaggerated actions and facial expressions. Her interactions with Charlie Richards as Max and Ashh Blackwood as Annie are hilarious as she tries her best to either keep them on script or upstage them. Oliver Mott made the role of Jonathan, playing the role of Charles Haversham, his own, earning one of the biggest laughs of the night with his act one emergency exit and bringing a wonderful emotion to the part who really just wants to get things right.


Another highlight of going to see this show more than just the once is the chance to see some of Mischief’s wonderful understudies (or as they call them Thunderstudies) in action, and this performance on the Saturday evening over the Easter weekend certainly didn’t disappoint in that department with not one, not two, but three performing. Stuart Vincent played the role of Robert, playing the role of Thomas Colleymoore and he was hilarious. From having to deal with a temperamental desk drawer to declaring that he needed coal to make to a ham and cheese toastie, he took it all in his stride and improvised with ease through anything that perhaps wasn’t meant to happen, and his rants at Ajani’s Trevor were particularly smile inducing. Charlie Richards took on the role of the hyperactive fun-loving Max, in the roles of Cecil Haversham and Arthur the Gardener and had the audience eating out of the palm of his hands with his over-the-top movements and genius little moments of improv as the characters laughs his way through the show, no matter what was going wrong.


After seeing the news last year that the show had gender swapped some of the roles with the third cover understudy roles, I had wanted to see a Denise or a Tessa, and I was lucky enough to finally do so with Emily Waters taking on the role of Denise playing the role of Perkins, which is normally played by a male identifying performer as Dennis. Waters delighted in the role, buzzing with energy, and making it clear that she was loving every moment of getting to play this iconic character.


With restrictions being lifted, it was wonderful to see some of the pre-covid moments make a return such as the cast being able to move around the audience in the pre-show and on-stage kisses making a comeback. From our seats on the front row, we could pick up on tiny details with only made the experience all the more enjoyable and meant that we got some great interaction from the cast.

Overall, The Play That Goes Wrong is a must see for comedy fans, having something for everyone to enjoy. Its family friendly entertainment as its best, as whilst younger audience members may not completely get the clever wordplay at times, the slapstick is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. The energy coming from the cast and the laughter that is shared around the auditorium is infectious and you can’t help but smile from beginning to end. The Play That Goes Wrong only goes to prove that Mischief Theatre is at the top of their game, and it can only continue to go from strength to strength.


Images found via Google, not my own



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