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Posts Tagged ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

Isobel McArthur has adapted Jane Austen’s novel and created an irreverent though reasonably faithful stage play which is frankly bonkers. Judging by the size and reaction of Sunday evening’s audience, it may join other off-the-wall Criterion long runners like The Third Man and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.

Five maids busy themselves in the house on stage (excellent bookish design by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita) before they put on a frock (female) or a coat (male), and occasionally headwear (both), to become characters in Austen’s story of unmarried sisters in search of husbands. They switch from maids to characters regularly, and occasionally pick up a microphone and sing karaoke style to the backing track of a contemporary song. The costumes may be period, but the words aren’t, illustrated by the occasional profanity. These five actresses – Tori Burgess, Christina Gordon, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Megan Tyler and the writer / co-director – play everyone except Mr Bennet, their silent imaginary dad, in an armchair with his back to us reading his paper.

It took me a short while to get into it, but when you do its a hoot. You’re really laughing with, rather than at, Austen, with a respect for the inspiration clearly evident. You can tell the five have been performing the show for some time, milking every line and every situation with expert comic timing and terrific audience engagement. It’s impossible not to get caught up in this charming, cheeky piece, which feels much like the breath of fresh air Mischief Theatre brought to the West End with The Play That Goes Wrong seven years ago.

It’s great to see eight of our best regional theatres working together to stage this for their audiences first, before transfer to London, and great to see producer David Pugh picking it up and hopefully giving this very talented company a national, even international, profile, and a decent, healthy run. The cheers and the standing ovation spoke for themselves.

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The international success of Mischief Theatre has been one of the theatre world’s great fairytales. The Play That Goes Wrong went from a room above a pub to 5 years in the West End, where it still runs, and almost a year on Broadway; I’ve lost track of the number of other countries it’s been staged in. There have been two more shows in the West End, with The Comedy About A Bank Robbery now in it’s 4th year and Peter Pan Goes Wrong back for Christmas, when they will have 4 shows in London running at the same time, with Magic Goes Wrong following this into the Vaudeville Theatre. They only left drama school c.10 years ago!

I was pleased they moved on from ‘goes wrong’ to have as much success with The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, a retro caper comedy that went straight into the West End, and they’re moved on again with this new show which, even though the trademark farce & physical comedy is still there, adds a lot of observational comedy. I really liked it.

The first act sees us in a primary school with five kids, played by adults in an oversized set, and the behaviour accurately reflects kids of that age; it’s very funny. In act two the same kids are teens in secondary school and we see how their archetypes have grown, if anything even funnier. In the final act we’re at a school reunion to see what they’ve made of their lives now that they’re in their early thirties. It’s still funny, but with more depth as we see how our early years mould us and make us, or not.

The five actors playing the kids growing up, all Mischief founders, are terrific at all three ages, with two other actors each playing two adult roles. On the night I went George Haynes was standing in for Jonathan Sayer, but you’d never know it. The set proportions get smaller as the characters get older and there are lovely running gags, most involving the school hamster. I thought it was an inspired idea to add a surprise performance after the curtain call. It might have a few less laughs than previous shows, but it’s got more depth, and I felt it shows the growth of the company as well as the characters they’re presenting.

The critical reception was lukewarm but the audience on Saturday seemed to love it. It may have improved since the press night (it appears to have lost 20 mins) and I would certainly recommend it. They’ve built up a loyal following and for me the secret of their success is that they combine consummate theatrical skills with good-time appeal to everyone of any age, offending no-one. Long may the fairytale continue.

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