So Much Right With a Play This Wrong

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About halfway through “The Play That Goes Wrong,” the character of Max, head of Cornley University’s theatre department and an inspector in the story’s play-within-a-play finally, loses his temper with the audience.

“Stop laughing at me,” Max, played by Ned Noyes, demands of the Baltimore audience. “This isn’t supposed to be funny.” The crowd’s fits of laughter grew louder as his frustration turns to desperation. “The audience in D.C. would never act like this!” he continues to yell. The crowd switches from laughing to booing and Max, alone on stage, looks about ready to throw in the towel. His show is a disaster, an entirely choreographed disaster.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

The story of “The Play That Goes Wrong” follows a professional cast acting as an unprofessional group of student actors. They portray Cornley University’s sad attempt to put on a murder mystery play about the death of Charles Haversham, who was killed by a guest in his home. The suspects include his sneaky and spotlight-hungry brother, Cecil, his unfaithful fiancée, Florence Colleymore, her hot-headed brother, Thomas, and the struggling butler, Perkins. The group relies on a questionable investigation, led by Max’s character, Inspector Carter, to find out who killed their beloved Charles.

Between an inattentive lighting and sound operator, a stage manager with stage fright, a structurally unsound set or the two separate instances where a cast member is knocked unconscious, “The Play That Goes Wrong” is guaranteed to be the most unique murder mystery you’ve ever seen. With each line of the script comes some mishap that sends the audience into a fit of laughter in a way that is only accomplished by perfect comedic timing.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” was first put on by Mischief Theatre in London, a company founded by a group of students from The London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art (much like the fictionalized Cornley University’s theatre department) in 2008. Written by company members Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer, the first show that went wrong premiered at London’s Old Red Lion Theatre in 2012.

It later won a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2015 and premiered on Broadway in April 2017 and launched an off-Broadway tour that came to Baltimore June 4-9.

Typically I will lose my enthusiasm for a live production, especially a comedy, by the end of the first act, I admit. However, “The Play That Goes Wrong” kept me engaged, excited and belly-laughing at the struggling cast for its entire two-hour duration.

The show also left me with questions, including which of the on-stage mistakes were intentional and which were improvised. The advantage of a play like this is that anything that might go wrong on-stage could only enhance the authenticity of the show.

Overall, it’s so amusing because of the talented cast’s masterful portrayal of a struggling university theatre company, whose mistakes turn what was supposed to be a suspenseful drama into a hysterically funny disaster.

Through Sunday, June 9 at The Hippodrome. france-merrickpac.com

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