Fans of slapstick comedy know what they’re getting for their money — a Broadway-level caliber cast spending two hours running around, causing a ruckus, and having unexpected hijinks ensue. If this is your cup of tea, you know you’ll love every aspect of The Play That Goes Wrong.
However, what might surprise other theatergoers is that, despite an audience that has an inordinate number of kids under the age of 18 at a weeknight performance (shows begin at 7 pm to attract the younger generation), there’s really tons of fun in this show for people of all ages, interests, and senses of humor. Great comedy can transcend style, and leave you marveling at the sheer originality and creativity that the cast members inject into a nightly production. This play, in that regard, is wholly and completely right.
The so-called Mischief Theater comes to New York straight out of London, where it won the Olivier Award for best comedy among other accolades it accrued. That praise and those awards were entirely deserving. They sell you immediately on a night that you haven’t imagined before, one that will make you overjoyed and entertained, while also at times feeling disturbed or concerned for the welfare of the cast members. Everything is planned, you keep telling yourself, but how can you be truly sure that someone isn’t a step away from enduring a real injury? That’s also an element of the power of live theater.
It almost doesn’t matter what the play is about, just that it takes play in a play within a play, one being performed by amateurs trying to hold it all together with their dignity intact. You’ll marvel at how well this cast can sell you on bad acting, which takes incredibly good acting to pull off.
What’s amazing about this show is how well you can understand and decipher characters you never really meet, only because they, too, are in character. At the front of it all is director Chris Bean (played in truth by Henry Shields) whose frustration over his show not going as planned comes through loud and clear in how he delivers his lines. He need not say anymore. The real director of our show, Mark Bell, does a masterful job getting to the root of what drives each of these characters to rise to the spotlight and ultimately to fall in their efforts to meet expectations. He has to literally rebuild the show night after night.
To get all of what needs to happen to go so wrong, the producers and cast have to get everything so right. What an achievement to pull it off so well, and so consistently. You’ve never seen anything like it before.