x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The Play That Goes Wrong gets the laughs right

In The Play That Goes Wrong, overly dramatic music scores a series of increasingly absurd proceedings: actors reading out lines that have been scribbled on their hands, the dead coming alive, an understudy fighting with the principal in the role and, ultimately, a collapsing set. It’s all done with immaculate timing and precise, in-your-face slapstick.

A scene from the U.K-based Mischief Theatre's production The Play That Goes Wrong. Alastair Muir / Kenny Wax Productions
A scene from the U.K-based Mischief Theatre's production The Play That Goes Wrong. Alastair Muir / Kenny Wax Productions

In the UK-based Mischief Theatre’s award-winning production of The Play That Goes Wrong, the writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have made a total farce of the 1920s murder mystery Murder at Haversham Manor – and that’s OK.

Even as the audience are being seated for the production, which was staged at Dubai’s Madinat Theatre over the weekend and moves to Abu Dhabi Theatre on June 9, the writers – who also act in this play-within-a play – are clumsily setting up the stage.

Shields, who plays the director of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society (and later on Inspector Carter), describes the group’s pitiful attempts to put on plays in the past.

Everything goes downhill from there over the next 90 minutes: we see an unconvincingly dead Charles Haversham, twitching and shifting on a “fainting couch”. His butler and brother-in-law aimlessly move around the stage screaming out their lines, ineffectually demanding to know who murdered him on the night of his engagement party. Overly dramatic music scores a series of increasingly absurd proceedings: actors reading out lines that have been scribbled on their hands, the dead coming alive, an understudy fighting with the principal in the role and, ultimately, a collapsing set. It’s all done with immaculate timing and precise, in-your-face slapstick.

The audience particularly enjoyed the antics of Sayer, who plays a butler struggling to remember his lines and mispronouncing most of what he says. Nancy Wallinger deserves a special mention for her portrayal, stepping into the role of the fiancée after the regular actor is knocked out cold when she gets hit by a door. Her deliberately wooden delivery brought the house down. Although some of the bawdier aspects of the production were toned down to cater to regional sensibilities, none of the humour was lost – even the children in the audience were laughing.

The Play That Goes Wrong moves to the Abu Dhabi Theatre on June 9. Tickets, from Dh160, can be booked at www.ticketmaster.ae

aahmed@thenational.ae