Review: ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ at The Lyceum Theatre

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The Lyceum Theatre on Broadway is playing host to a most unusual guest.. It has brought in the Cornley University Drama Society’s production of The Murder at Haversham Manor and because of a number of mishaps along the way, they have changed the title to The Play That Goes Wrong. It features a cast of eight stalwart farceurs who play it with all the tricks of the trade, and they manage to deliver a corking good show. However the true stars of the evening are not one of them; the actors give superb support to the scenic and lighting designs of Nigel Hook and Ric Mountjoy, which in fact are the elements that should be billed above the title.

The cast of The Play That Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

As a play by Susie H.K. Brideswell, The Murder at Haversham Manor is a loosely constructed romp that begins with the discovery of a corpse (or is it one?) and the search by Inspector Carter for the killer. The Inspector is played by Chris Bean, who also happens to be the director, the costume designer, the prop maker, the box office manager, the press man, the voice and dialect coach and the first choreographer. We are told that this production was made possible by the British-American Cultural Exchange Program. Though it turns out to be a laugh riot rather than a bloodcurdling thriller, it might do damage to any further cultural exchanges between our two great nations.

That’s because culture is not readily on display in this poor doomed thriller, which can’t seem to get more than two lines out before the star, the set mentioned above, misbehaves in a most entertaining way by bending, twisting, breaking and finally pretty much totally falling down. It is all done with the true artistry of a genuine stellar performance, and until you’ve seen it, you will not imagine how inventive, impulsive, surprising and artful a stellar set like this one can be. Of course a farce needs direction, and Mark Bell has staged it brilliantly, conducting it as though it was a major symphonic work.

There is  a narration that helps us understand what Ms. Brideswell had in mind when writing her murder mystery, but if that seems inconsequential, don’t consider yourself dimwitted. The narrator will tell us that the Drama Society has been touring Britain extensively on a very low budget, so low that they’ve had to cut Cats to Cat and The Three Sisters to The Two Sisters, but he says the essence of the originals had been maintained, so all was well. The eight actors who have crossed the ocean to bring this original British company to the Lyceum are Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell (she’s a woman called Charlie), Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill, Nancy Zamit, Matthew Cavendish, Bryony Corrigan, Jonathan Fielding, and Amelia McClain. They are very brave actors, for they risk sudden death all through the evening. They take tumbles, they fight with lethal looking swords, they inhabit rooms with moveable floors, they handle a telephone with the grace and agility of brain surgeons. Each depends totally on the others not only to keep the pace of the piece, but as protection from mortal danger from the star, Nigel Hook’s hysterically active setting.

You’ll be leaving all your cares and woes in the cloak room if you use it to store your winter gear, but even as spring arrives, you will find this delicious piece of merriness a genuine spring tonic. Our British cousins have always favored farce, more than we do over here, and when served up as expertly as this, we can understand why.

Running Time: Two hours and 5 minutes, plus an intermission.

The cast of The Play That Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The Play That Goes Wrong is playing at The Lyceum Theatre – 149 West 45th Street, in New York, NY. For tickets call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or 800-447-7400, or purchase them online.

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