This past weekend, “The Play That Goes Wrong,” written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields of the Mischief Theatre Company, had its run at the university’s Cabaret Theater.
A play within a play, “The Play That Goes Wrong” tells the story of the Cornley Drama Society, an underfunded, undermanned and poorly operated theatre troupe. After various unsuccessful productions, including a one-man show of “Cats,” simply called “Cat,” the troupe takes on “Murder at Haversham Manor,” an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery.
Much of the play’s humor relies on props and the set itself falling apart, causing various injuries as the Cornley Drama Society attempts to keep it all together. At times this, and the long-running gags, can grow a bit exhausting.
However, the line deliveries, facial expressions and gestures were hilarious. The actors’ over-the-top posh English accents, comedic timing and delivery were impeccable.
Parker Wilkinson, who played Robert “Robbin” Robberson playing Thomas Colleymoore, the best friend of the murder victim in “Murder At Haversham Manor,” was an absolute pleasure to watch throughout the entire play. His foppish accent was a perfect blend of realistic and ridiculous and his “Looney Tunes”-style screaming at certain points left me near to tears.
The most impressive aspect of the show was the sheer amount of energy everyone seemed to have. Whether it was just good acting or genuine vitality that late in the evening, no one could tell the difference. The entire cast kept the crowd engaged and laughing throughout, myself included.
Cole Reed, who played Max Well playing Cecil Haversham, brother of the murder victim, was also fantastic. His exaggerated bodily movements and faux sword fighting abilities were as entertaining as they were flat-out impressive that he can contort his body in so many ways so quickly.
The play’s strongest comedic moments mostly manifested in the dialogue and delivery of lines, although it was very prop and physical comedy-heavy. The most important running gag obviously being the set falling apart as the play ran its course, there were some moments of this that felt a bit repetitive.
In various scenes where characters were having full-on brawls, I found myself wishing it would move on a bit. However, the feeling of unbearability could be intentional, a splitting headache like a person would have watching the real Cornley Drama Society perform.
Of the full-on brawl, the two ladies participating in it were extremely devoted to realism. I have never seen such convincing fake wrestling moves since “WWE Divas Championship.”
Madison Breyley, as Sandra Bobandra playing Florence Colleymoore, the fiancé of the murder victim, and Abigail Van Vleet, playing a lucky stage technician who gets her lucky shot when Sandra is whacked with a door and knocked unconscious, were both great in their parts. They were both funny, but they also very well played both the actresses and the shared character they pushed each other around for.
The whole cast, in fact, did a marvelous job at playing two characters at once, the nuance of each new accident on set read through well, from dropping accents, to mispronouncing words, to the kissing that did, and did not, happen that were meant to.
Aurianna Hobson, as Cornley director Christ Spritz-Sprocket playing Haversham’s inspector, tied each scene she was in together. The entire play, both characters of hers were brightened and all characters were brought together through her presence.
Ashton Hinton playing Dennis Thud as the manor’s only member of staff, Perkins, has fantastic facial expressions that read well from the audience. Hinton performed one of the only running gags that made me laugh every time: slyly reading, and atrociously mispronouncing, difficult words that were spelled out on his hand.
Overall, though there were some small critiques I had about the play itself, the performance was wonderful. It was full of spirit, humor and talent.
As Hamlet himself says in Act 3 Scene 2 of “Hamlet,” the “purpose of playing” is “to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature.” Life can certainly be a mess as “The Play That Goes Wrong” reminds us, but there is always humor to be found when we can learn to laugh at ourselves.
Dr. Dan, director of the Cabaret Theater’s production of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” writes it best in his director’s note: “With so much potential for something to go wrong, why do we still do love theatre? It’s because we must. There’s something in us, a passion, a love for art, a sense of belonging and accomplishment, a need to create the possibilities of worlds and stories that make us uniquely human. This particular show truly embodies the spirit of the saying, ‘the show must go on!’ ”