Last Thursday, I took my play-reviewing talents to New York and saw The Play That Goes Wrong on Broadway. It was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields (who also starred in the show), and was directed by Mark Bell. It was recently nominated for a Tony for the Best Scenic Design in a Play. (Tune in on June 11 to find out if they won! Hint: I think they should!) [Also hint: if you haven’t seen this show, go see it. I have a few spoilers in this review about certain things that happen, so go see the show, then read my review. Or read it anyway.]
Last week, I was up in New York for a work event and since my best friend from high school and college live there, I decided to stay and see shows! (It was a really hard sell…) My friend from high school told me about this play, The Play That Goes Wrong, said she heard it was hilarious, and we decided to go. So I stood in line starting at 8:50am for rush tickets. If a Broadway show does rush tickets (find out if they do here), they’re usually partial view, $30-50, and you have to wait in line for at least an hour to get them. For these, there weren’t a ton of people waiting for rush tickets, so I could have showed up at 9:45am and still been fine, but that’s unique.
So I show up in the theater at 6:30pm and didn’t know much about the show other than Nigel Hook’s set was nominated for a Tony for Best Scenic Design in a Play. I noted that the set looked interesting, but oh, I had no idea. Just wait.
With 15 minutes left before the show started, some of the “stage crew” started coming out into the audience talking about a lost dog for the play and hurriedly reassembling the set. We started reading the program. And we noticed that there were essentially two programs. One was for The Play That Goes Wrong, the other was for The Murder at Haversham Manor. The central conceit of the show is that you’re watching a Cornley University Dram Society production of The Murder at Haversham Manor, that, due to a clerical error, ended up on Broadway. It’s a wonderful conceit and really sets up a hilarious show!
The one thing you can always count on in this show is that things will go wrong. The playwrights (and three main characters) are geniuses; I don’t know how they came up with so many hilarious physical and intellectual comedy bits!
There’s so much theatre *magic* happening. The set literally falls apart. Things get put on the wall, things fall off the wall, the wall falls off the scaffolding! There’s an upper deck/balcony that falls to the ground, people are running around, and the “stage crew” (actors themselves, but stage crew in the diegetic world (explanation of diegetic sounds here, but I’m using it in roughly the same way)) has to fill in for characters that are accidentally rendered unconscious. It was so hilarious watching all the actors “get hurt” – like watching a safe version of America’s Funniest Home Videos because you know that everything that happens is meant to happen even if it appears as though it’s all on accident.
I thought all of Bell’s direction and choreography was incredible. It took precision and meticulous planning in order for everyone to be in exactly the right place when the walls came down. Or when the sword broke in the fight scene. Or when people were being knocked out or fainting this way and that.
Everything in this play was used in such an inventive way. People doubled as the set, set pieces doubled as people. There’s a grandfather clock that literally stands in for a woman.
The story of the murder at Haversham Manor was actually pretty fun and would have been a good murder mystery, but then add on top of that all the ridiculousness of the play. I was dying with laughter within 2 minutes and didn’t stop for the full two hours.
The lighting design, by Ric Mountjoy, and the sound design, by Andy Johnson, are dramatic and fun. The diegetic sound is constantly accidentally interspersed with Duran Duran, a favorite of Trevor, the “Assistant Stage Manager.”
The costumes, by Roberto Surace, are great because at one point the “Stage Manager” must take on the role of Florence in the play. Instead of changing into the costume of Florence, the “Stage Manager” just puts on Florence’s wig and dress over her overalls and black shirt. All the people in the diegetic world seem perfectly suited to their high-fallutin’ lifestyle and the contrast between that the street clothes of the “stage crew” works so well in this play that straddles the lines of play and reality.
Many of the characters will acknowledge the audience during the course of the play, a cardinal sin in traditional theatre, but it works so well in this show. It’s truly an ensemble performance, led by the three playwrights, and all of them have impeccable comedic timing.
Bottom line: go see this show. I give it a 9/10.