The Play That Goes Wrong - Chester Storyhouse

Dry January; the latest global fad to get people to stop drinking for a month. Other than the occasional catch up with friends and a few festive drinkies, I don’t drink an awful lot, so dry January wasn’t much of a challenge for me; but what if I gave up theatre for a month instead?

December became too busy for me to write up my Christmas trip to London, taking in plays, exhibitions and the annual Operation Smile Carol service, so I haven’t been on here for a while. (A big thank you to those who asked me if I was OK – I never knew you cared!) During "Dry January" I spent the month watching films and burying my head in a multitude of books. I know I should have shared my thoughts about them, but lethargy had kicked in. If I was honest with myself, it was going to be hard to get back into writing mode after a two month break. The long daily commute in and out of work during inky darkness was catching up with me and I couldn't be bothered with much at all.

Laughter is often a great medicine, so my cure for the blues was a trip to Storyhouse Theatre in Chester to see The Play That Goes Wrong. 1st February 2018 my bum was back where it belonged…a theatre seat! This was my first trip to Storyhouse Theatre, and for another first, my partner accompanied me. (He’s not a theatre lover, but I told him this was Monty Python meets Fawlty Towers, not Chekhov or Pinter, so he was happy to give it a go.)

We are normally late for everything, so to make sure my first trip back to theatreland wasn’t wasted by not being allowed into the auditorium, I said we needed to be sat down by 7pm. (Ticket said 7:30 but I wasn’t showing him that.) As we sat down, a couple of traumatised stagehands ran past asking if we’d seen a dog. Never mind the dog, the sound/lighting technician had lost his Duran Duran CD, I think they needed to sort their priorities out!

Welcome to Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s production of “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” Before the play even begins, you know that all is not running smoothly for these hapless students. The stagehands have built a beautiful set which is held together by gaffer tape. As an unwitting member of the audience tries to help them fix things in time for the production, the proud Director Chris Bean (played by Jake Curran) takes time to welcome the audience to his directorial debut.

I must admit, I’m not a massive fan of farces. I find that they can get a bit tired and silly and I end up embarrassed and twitchy rather than relaxed and chortling with the rest of the crowd. I do like physical, cleverly written comedy. I can watch Fawlty Towers time and time again because it has both of those elements, cleverly crafted comedy with perfectly executed timings which never go stale.  

This cleverly created “play within a play” has all the hallmarks of the perfect Agatha Christie murder mystery. Every murder needs a body; in this case Charles Haversham (Steven Rostance) is found dead on the eve of his engagement party at the home of wealthy Thomas Collymore (Kazeem Tosin Amore) and his sister Florence Collymore (Elena Valentine). Of course we will need a longer list of suspects, enter the butler Perkins (Benjamin McMahon) and Cecil Haversham (Bobby Hirston) and a great detective to solve the crime, Inspector Carter (Jake Curran). As Inspector Carter tries to take control of the incident, the amateur dramatic students try their level best to remember their lines whilst executing a range of emotions with exaggerated theatrical mannerisms in amidst the chaos of the incompetent and visible “backstage” crew.

Annie, the shy stage manager (Catherine Dryden) is hilarious as she creeps across the stage, one hand covering her face so she can’t be seen by the audience, trying to fix wonky bits of set. Obviously Annie can’t have seen the script as the props required for the performance haven't been laid out properly and an attempt at improvisation is required by these poor, would be, thespians, so that they may forge ahead with their play!

It takes great skill by talented actors to make an audience roar with laughter and make them feel sorry for the poor drama students whose performance is crumbling around their ears. Despite their best efforts that “the show must go on” each Act goes from bad to worse. A collapsing set, "stars" losing consciousness, an AWOL lighting/sound technician and an understudy who doesn't know their part...can it get any worse for Cornley Polytechnic? 

Usually there is a standout performance in a play, but this time I think everyone involved is worthy of the plaudits attributed to this production.  They have managed to cover every aspect of watching an amateur dramatic show. From the pouting, posing Florence Collymore/ student Sandra; Perkins/Dennis who is unable to read the prompts written on his hand; Cecil Haversham/Max who keeps smiling and playing up the audience every time he gets a laugh; to the poor reluctant understudy Annie being forced on stage, every character made my face and side ache with laughter.

Poor Chris Bean’s directorial debut of The Murder at Haversham Manor might have fallen apart, but The Play That Goes Wrong was undoubtedly a hilarious night out and a work of genius. No wonder this play has been taken up by the West End, Broadway and is back on tour. If you get a chance to see it, please do so. As Audrey Hepburn was reported to say “I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.” 

Laughter may not put the world to rights, or cure ills, but just for a couple of hours, it lets you forget about reality; and that has to be good for the soul.

Tour dates: Until Oct 6th 2018
London shows:  Until Sept 30th 2018