Theatre Review: The Play That Goes Wrong is a painfully hilarious experience (Encore Season in Sydney until 21st May)

The experience of the hit comedy The Play That Goes Wrong, currently touring Australia, starts before you enter the room, as cast members walk around the foyer, greeting guests, engaging in arguments and letting you know that they’ve lost a dog from the second act – a sign that indeed, things are about to go very wrong. Though the sign alerting guests that Tom Cruise would not be appearing in tonight’s performance was at least one positive omen.

Audience interaction continued inside the theatre, as a guest in the front row was brought on to literally hold the set together – a set that also extended into the audience, as “Trevor” (Adam Dunn) sat in the makeshift sound desk at the front of the box seats, occasionally interacting with the audience (one woman yelled out “get your act together!”, to which he replied with a good dose of quick wit “I’m not an actor!”), and generally doing a terrible job of doing whatever it is Trevor was supposed to be doing.

And from there, the play began, and started falling apart. Within 15 minutes of the play kicking into gear, the crowd was in such uproarious laughter I swear they were overpowering the voice of the performers; one woman laughing so hard nearby her hysterics had her stamping her feet on the ground like out of some vaudeville cartoon.

“This isn’t television, I can hear you you know!” – The “director” breaks the fourth wall in a moment of particular brilliance. 

Though the local production added some Australian flair to proceedings, not shying away from Trevor’s Australian accent, for instance, there’s something intrinsically British about it all. In a word, this is the play that Basil Fawlty would have directed if he had been given a chance. In fact, I was reminded of seeing the Fawlty Towers stage show in the same room – though the slapstick humour here, especially in the final act, is taken up a notch, and elegantly drawn out just that little bit too much to ensure you feel the actor’s frustration as their world falls apart around them. But not so much so that you ever stop laughing along the way. It’s a balance the British have always done brilliantly, and the local cast (with the exception of James Marlowe, who has transplanted himself from the West End cast, though sadly wasn’t in the performance tonight – must have been hanging with Tom Cruise) have translated it well.

As much as this is simply a show about everything going wrong, at its heart it’s also about a group of actors so stubbornly dedicated to the script that they’ll see it through to the end… even it it kills them. You can’t help but admire their dedication to their craft, as flawed as it may be. Lesser productions would have given up five minutes into proceedings, but director Chris Bean (Nick Simpson-Deeks) and his cast stare right down the headlights and keep on running, right into oncoming traffic – much to the bemoanmeant of Dennis (an always brilliant George Kemp) and adorable amusement of Max (played tonight by Jordan Prosser, though normally by James Marlowe).

While the absurdist and slapstick humour sets the production apart from others, the true brilliance of the play is the same as any play, be it drama or comedy: the timing. Gags are brilliant, as is a witty script – and we have both in droves – but without the excellent set design, the timing of the actors and the on stage trickery (half the stage falling apart in one fell swoop), engineered skilfully by the team behind the scenes, none of that would be possible. The staging is some of the best I’ve ever seen; this deceptively small yet incredibly high tech production does it as well as the biggest Broadway blockbusters, and the cast play to their craft with military-like precision, whilst skilfully making it look like they’re making it up as they’re going along.

The Play That Goes Wrong delivers everything promised in its title and more. Often a show hyped to be a laugh a minute is far from it, weighed down by over blown expectations and some inate human desire to prove the masses wrong. But this play does everything right in satisfying its audience, ensuring you’ll be in raptourous laughter whether you want to be or not. And if that’s not worth the price of admission, I don’t know what is.

The Play That Goes Wrong is enjoying a brief encore season at Sydney’s Roslyn Packer Theatre until 21st May. Its Australian tour then continues to Perth’s His Majesty’s Theatre from 31st May to 11th June. For tickets and more details head to theplaythatgoeswrong.com.au

The reviewer attended the performance on 16th May.