The Play That Goes Wrong

Cluedo

10/05/22

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

The game of Cluedo was something I only played occasionally as a kid – and, because I had an annoying habit of disobeying the rules (why would I answer questions honestly if I might be the murderer?), I was rarely asked to play a second time, as my presence tended to plunge every game into chaos.

This stage version, based on an original screenplay by Jonathan Lynn and adapted by Sandy Rustin, is pretty chaotic too. It’s directed by Mark Bell (of The Play That Goes Wrong) and, as you might expect, leans heavily into the absurd.

All the usual suspects are in evidence: the mysterious Miss Scarlett (Michelle Collins), the accident-prone Reverend Green (Tom Babbage) and the dim-witted Colonel Mustard (Wesley Griffith). Throw in the pompous Professor Plum (Daniel Casey) the enigmatic Mrs White (Etisyai Philip) and the boozy Mrs Peacock (Judith Amsenga) and we have the full set. Of course there’s a butler, Wadsworth (Jean Luke-Worrell), who acts as our guide and explains that those colour-coded names are simply pseudonyms. The six guests have been invited here by a certain ‘Mr Boddy’, who has information about their nefarious goings-on. Each of them is issued with their own unique murder weapon (you all know what they are) and the fun dutifully ensues.

And it is fun, provided you don’t pause too long to consider the sheer improbability of it all. Without wasting any time, the story galumphs happily from one unlikely event to another. A cunningly devised set is repeatedly opened up like a puzzle box to reveal secret corridors and adjacent rooms and there’s plenty of silly, tongue-twisty wordplay – particularly from Luke-Worrell: his rapid fire replay of ‘what’s happened so far’ is the play’s best sequence and earns a round of applause all of its own. Hats off to Harry Bradley, who keeps popping up in a variety of guises only to be promptly murdered – it’s a living of a kind, I suppose. A repeated motif where a character utters another character’s name ad infinitum is also the cause of much mirth and it’s clear that tonight’s audience are having great fun with the proceedings.

And that’s pretty much what Cluedo is – fast, funny and frenetic, it does what it says on the Waddington’s box.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

11/02/20

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? That excruciatingly bad theatre performance in the local village hall where everything goes wrong – the actors can’t act, the singers can’t sing and the dancers can’t dance. The makeshift props have a habit of collapsing at key moments and the lighting and sound cues are completely out of control. This, of course, is the kind of stuff that fuels Mischief Theatre’s productions, and is at the heart of their meteoric success since 2013’s The Play That Goes Wrong.

With Peter Pan Goes Wrong, things have taken a palpable step up. Perhaps it’s simply because it’s based on an established classic, or maybe they are learning to push the boundaries of what they do, but – whatever the reason – the gags are more confidently staged, while some of the ‘accidents’ look convincing enough to make me wince. It’s an ensemble piece so it’s hard to pick out individual performances, but I do laugh muchly at Katy Daghorn’s exaggerated physicality in the role of Wendy and I love the way that both Max “Only There Because His Dad Is An Investor In The Show” Bennett (Tom Babbage), and Lucy “The Co-director’s Daughter Who Suffers From Stage Fright” Grove (Georgia Bradly) are given the opportunity to milk the audience’s sympathy.

Of course, since Peter Pan productions famously involve wire work, there’s plenty of scope for the titular hero to flail helplessly around above his co-stars heads, and the idea is exploited to the full. Also, a pirate ship number – which brilliantly utilises an out-of-control revolving stage – builds to a frenetic and highly inventive climax that has me laughing so hard I nearly fall off my seat.

Here’s the proof that getting things wrong in the theatre can sometimes pay off handsomely.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Play That Goes Wrong

14/03/18

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

The clue is most definitely in the title. When we arrive at the King’s, members of Mischief Theatre’s ‘technical crew’ are making frantic last-minute repairs to an elaborate 1920s country house set. A member of the audience is recruited to help them and is furnished with booby-trapped equipment that malfunctions whenever he tries to use it, eliciting much laughter from the audience and serving as an indicator of what is to follow. And then, the lights dim and the leader of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society strides on to introduce, The Murder at Haversham Manor. He explains that the society has recently been the recipient of an unexpected bequest, one that has allowed them to put on a much more ambitious play than their earlier efforts…

Then the  play itself, a hoary old murder mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie, gets under way – and it’s hardly a spoiler to tell you that yes, it does go wrong in just about every way imaginable – actors forget their lines, a ‘corpse’ keeps making inappropriate noises, important pieces of scenery repeatedly fall down and at one point, a key member of the cast is knocked unconscious and has to be replaced by a stage hand – who is then reluctant to relinquish the role when the original actor unexpectedly recovers.

Ironically, in order to depict a show going so badly, the cast are called upon to maintain absolute control; they display excellent comic timing and, as the play gathers pace in the second half, we are treated to some truly spectacular (and dangerous-looking) disasters, including one that seems to have drawn its inspiration from the work of Buster Keaton.

All right, it’s fair to say, I suppose, that this is all a bit one-note – it does pretty much what it says on the can and repeats the same basic joke ad infinitum – but it’s all presented with such zeal and precision that it succeeds spectacularly on that score. By the time I stumble away into the night, my face is aching from a surfeit of hilarity. Those of you who are in dire need of cheering up – and goodness knows there seems to be plenty of things to feel morose about lately – should look no further than this Olivier Award winning comedy.

It’s a cracker.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney