“The Play That Goes Wrong”, written in 2012, is probably one of the most successful comedies of the past ten years. It’s been on the London stage most of that time and ran on Broadway for two years before going to off-Broadway. It’s toured across the U.S. and Australia. The story is a spoof of the British murder mystery play. It is now on the Philadelphia stage thanks to 1812 Productions.
An amateur theater company is mounting a play, “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” Before the lights go down, we in the audience watch as the crew is trying to do final adjustments to the set, particularly, securing the broken mantelpiece. For a moment, we’re not even sure the play has begun.
Then, when the play within the play does begin, we see a man, Charles Haversham, sprawled out on the sofa, dead. Soon, he is surrounded by his fiancé, his butler, his best friend, and then, the inspector, called to investigate the case. While the story gets more and more complicated, this play written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields is not a drama but an absurd comedy. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
People don’t enter on cue. Lines are forgotten or mispronounced and are often recited after the action they are meant to describe. Props are misplaced. The actors try to make do with other props that don’t fit the purpose. Set pieces collapse. The body of the dead man’s hand gets stepped on and he reacts. The fiancé gets knocked out. The stage manager replaces her, script-in hand. And when the fiancé recovers, they battle over who should continue the role. They lose their place in the script and wind up repeating a sequence several times. It is a mess!
Describing all the chaos does not do full justice to what is happening on stage. You have to see it, to experience it. In the hands of actors less than the ensemble Director Jen Childs has put together, the play might not work. These professionals are spectacular as they portray less than competent actors. So much happens so fast and they never miss a beat as the characters they portray miss many.
The set and the props are also an integral part of the comedy. As things fall apart and fall down, as things get misplaced, there must be a huge crew working behind the set. It’s silly and it’s smart. Yet a woman who left at the intermission told me, “it’s just not my cup of tea.”
Comedy is such a personal thing. What’s funny to one person may not appeal to another. Usually, I prefer more subtle humor. But this over-the-top comedy is so well done, I was mesmerized by 1812’s outstanding production. The timing alone is staggering. You can’t stop yourself from laughing.
P.S. Inside the program is a second program, the one of the play within the play that is being mounted. It’s a fun read.
“The Play That Goes Wrong” by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayer by 1812 Productions, at Players and Players Theater, 1714 Delancey, Philadelphia, PA 19103, 215-592-9560, info@1812 productions.org Thru May 21, 2023
One thought on “The Play That Goes Wrong at 1812 Productions”
Terrific review. I saw it