The Play That Goes Wrong'

‘THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG’: (left to right) Dave Hearn, Greg Tannahill (on chaise lounge), Henry Lewis & Charlie Russell. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

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By Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields
Directed by Mark Bell
Through September 3, 2017
Lyceum Theatre
149 West 45th Street


By Scott Harrah

The British love slapstick and farce, but what works on the West End doesn’t always translate to guaranteed laughs in America. The Play That Goes Wrong, the long-running London hit, just transferred to Broadway after winning an Olivier for Best New Comedy in 2015. With its relentless pratfalls, visual gags and nonstop ridiculousness, it’s the type of show one either loves or hates.

The Play That Goes Wrong follows in the theatrical footsteps of the door-slamming farces that are a staple in U.K. theatre, from No Sex Please, We’re British and Noises Off to Boeing Boeing and Don’t Dress for Dinner. What sets this play apart from its predecessors is its complete lack of nuance, suggestion and cleverness.  Even in the most preposterous comedies, subtlety should be paramount in the humor. Noises Off kept one’s interest by showing two perspectives of a “play within a play,” alternating between what was happening onstage to backstage antics. Good comedy, no matter how inane, should have an element of surprise, but in this Play That Goes Wrong, one often knows the punch lines to all the jokes and gags beforehand because the laughs are too obvious and trite.

In fact, the show even steals an idea from Noises Off of including a mock program inside the Playbill. The fictional Cornley University Drama Society, an amateur troupe, is presenting a ghastly production of The Murder at Haversham Manor, a 1920s-style whodunit. Even before the show starts, we see stagehands fixing a falling-apart set and various nonsense. When the curtain rises, an actor (Greg Tannhill) is already dead. This sets the tone for the rest of the show, a predictable series of mishaps involving a murder, the suspects, secret lovers and an inspector (Henry Shields).

Doors stick, props fall off the walls, cues and lines are flubbed, malapropisms abound, and there’s a lame running joke about drinking paint thinner mistaken for real booze (and spitting it out). Words are mispronounced, someone hides in a grandfather clock, etc.

Frenetic energy keeps everything moving at a dizzying pace, but it is hardly enough to sustain the lowbrow humor for two full acts, with an intermission. Three of the play’s authors—Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Mr. Shields—are in the show, but it is difficult to see much distinction from any of the cast because Mark Bell directs everyone at the same breakneck pace.

Still, who’s to knock a screwball comedy that’s shamelessly silly if that’s your thing? So few comedies are ever presented on Broadway lately that, when one comes along, it’s a welcome addition to any season. If one enjoys giddy theatrical horseplay and in-your-face physical comedy, this Play That Goes Wrong may just get it right for you, but it is too heavy on the “ham” for those expecting a more ingenious tale.



Edited by Scott Harrah
Published April 6, 2017
Reviewed at press performance on April 5, 2017


The Play That Goes Wrong

‘THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG’: Henry Shields, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Lewis. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

The Play That Goes Wrong

‘THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG’: (left to right) Jonathan Sayer, Henry Lewis, Dave Hearn (center falling), Greg Tannahill (on chaise lounge) & Charlie Russell (in window). Photo: Alastair Muir

The Play That Goes Wrong

‘THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG’: (Left to right) Henry Shields, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Lewis & Dave Hearn. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

The Play That Goes Wrong

‘THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG’: Henry Lewis, Rob Falconer, Nancy Zamit, Greg Tannahill, Charlie Russell. Photo: Alastair Muir

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