Arriving early at the Devonshire Park Theatre is highly recommended to see this totally madcap production as, not only is the theatre almost sold out for every performance but also, the action begins well before the advertised start time.
The huge crowd have assembled to witness the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society production of Susie H.K. Brideswell’s Murder At Haversham Manor, the play that is The Play That Goes Wrong – as becomes very obvious when a member of the audience is dragged up on stage to help two incompetent stage technicians to repair the (apparently) rather flimsy set.
Before the play starts we meet the show’s director, designer and star, Chris Bean who reminds us all of casting issues that lead to their production of the musical Cat, funding problems that affected James and the Peach and even the colour blind designer that positively ruined their production of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
The drama then begins with an ill-timed lighting cue that reveals the “corpse” walking across the stage and preparing to lay out on the chaise and, following that, the production soon decends into complete farce. The set falls to pieces, the acting is either wooden or completely over the top, there is infighting among the cast, the poor “corpse” keeps getting assaulted and, above all, it’s absolutely hilarious.
It is slapstick comedy at its very best as doors don’t open or don’t close, wall decorations keep falling down, actors are concussed, and Nigel Hook’s incredible set, which conceals so many tricks that unfold as the performance goes along, rapidly becomes one of the stars of the show!
As we have a play within a play, crediting the casting is not easy, but here goes. Patrick Warner is Chris Bean, who is Inspector Carter, the character who tries to hold the murder mystery play together as well as he possibly can but, as events conspire against him, who soon becomes reminiscent of Basil Fawlty at his manic best.
Playing Thomas Colleymore and his sister Florence Colleymore, Robert Grove and Sandra Wilkinson (in turn played by Edward Judge and Meg Mortell) seem to get the lions share of the more physical aspects of the comedy and, between them, they have to contend with sword fighting, fist fighting, collapsing scenery and even being dragged unconscious through a window.
Jonathan Harris (Jason Callender) and Max Bennett (Alastair Kirton) are the brothers Charles and Cecil Haversham and, considering that one of them starts the production as the corpse, both have a great deal of input into the show, providing the unexpected twist (which is anything but unexpected) as the production reaches it’s climax.
Dennis Tyde (Edward Howells) features as the butler, Perkins who, together with Stage Manager Annie Twilloil (Katie Bernstein) and Sound / Lighting operator Trevor Watson (Graeme Rooney) completes the team responsible for the murder mystery. All three have pivotal roles to play and, as one might expect, all three fail miserably in that endeavour.
As with all murder mystery plays there is the big reveal at the end but, with chaos reining supreme, destruction all around and the audience howling with laughter, I couldn’t tell you with any degree of certainty exactly who it was that “dunnit” – I think I had better go and see it again!
Mischief Theatre Company have created a frantic paced comedy, with the superb timing needed to make this kind of slapstick physical comedy work, and feature a multi-talented cast who give their all to deliver the amazing energy and stamina necessary to keep the audience roaring with laughter from start to finish.
***** Five Stars