The Play That Goes Wrong, Storyhouse Chester

I can't remember the last time I laughed so solidly throughout a show before this Tuesday.

The UK tour of The Play That Goes Wrong swept into Storyhouse in Chester this week, and it more than delivered the hilarity the posters promised.

Let me start by saying I love a show that gets the audience involved before the show even begins. The stage managers and director were all over the auditorium, a member of the audience was pulled up to help fix the set, and the atmosphere of excitement was rippling across the stalls before curtain up arrived.

I'm not usually the biggest fan of this style of humour - slapstick, quite 'silly' humour - but for one evening my mind was changed. I think I've usually only seen this kind of thing on TV, but seeing it on stage gave me a whole new sense of appreciation because you realise just how difficult it must be to have so much 'go wrong'. From stunts to collapsing sets to unconscious actors, there was so much going on which demanded flawless timing and a lot of training and talent.

The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is putting on a murder mystery, but it doesn't take long for things to start going, well, a bit wrong. The casts' determination is all that pulls them through to the play's conclusion, and they come up with some pretty ingenious ways to just keep going, at whatever cost.

The play in a play idea is always a fun place to start, as every character immediately has both the motivations of their own character and the character they're playing in the murder mystery itself, and sometimes the two cross over. The cast is made up both of the performers in the murder mystery and some members of the backstage crew.

Usually, in a review, I pick out a few cast members to focus on in particular, but I really struggled with this show as it's such a strong ensemble number - I couldn't choose anyone to speak about in isolation. Instead, I decided to pick out some of my favourite moments or features of the play (without major plot spoilers).

Some of my favourite moments were moments of silence, in which the characters were trying to figure out what on earth to do next. For example, in one scene all limbs are occupied holding up parts of the set and then the telephone rings. The silences lasted a great amount of time and you could almost see the cogs whirring in the actors' brains.

The deterioration of the raised study area (with the unwanted pot plant!) was a clear cause of lots of laughter, which I don't think needs any more explanation than that. If you've seen the show, you know.

One of my favourite moments in the script itself was when the murder mystery script got into a bit of a pickle. With one character forgetting a line, those in the scene were stuck on a loop, repeating one page again and again. I've definitely been in plays where this has happened!

I think that's why I found it extra funny: I've been in many an amateur production. Which means I've witnessed pretty much all of these things before! Yes, the show takes it to the extreme, but it's all based on things that really can and do go wrong, which I think adds an extra layer of chuckles for anyone who has spent any time in the wonderful world of theatre.

The one element that took away from the overall shine slightly was that in the final ten to fifteen minutes of the show, I was ready for it to end. I'd loved the show and laughed the whole way through but in those final scenes I felt it went on just one step too long, or took things just one step further than necessary. Maybe it would have helped if there had been a more gradual escalation of disasters. It did build, but it built very quickly so the second act had far less progression and was more on one level.

That's a minor gripe though, because overall I had the most wonderful evening. The audience reaction said it all: we were laughing out loud from start to finish. There were laughs, cheers and gasps throughout and the energy in the auditorium was just amazing.

I'm really pleased I stepped out of my comfort zone and into the world of The Play That Goes Wrong.

Sophie x


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