It’s not often that audiences suffer injuries when going to see a show (unless the roof falls in, of course) but a paramedic was on standby throughout last night’s opening of The Play That Goes Wrong at the Royal and Derngate Theatre , Northampton.
It was a wise precaution as, by the end of the first act, actually by the end of the first ten minutes, everyone was laughing so heartily that there was a very real danger of someone hyperventilating, choking on their dentures, or splitting their sides with merriment.
The Play of the title does exactly what it says on the cover of the programme. Packed with pratfalls and pitfalls, it’s a disaster from beginning to end as an am-dram group attempts a whodunnit.
We’re with The Cornley Polytechnic Society, which has had a tough time of late, but they’re game to stage The Murder At Haversham Manor, an Agatha Christie-style drawing room mystery.
After scraping together enough enthusiastic amateurs to make a cast they’re ready for opening night.
But things start to go wrong before the audience at the R & D has got settled into the Royal auditorium.
The mantelpiece in the set falls apart and a stage hand is using gaffer tape to stick it together when the curtain goes up.
But the show must go on come what may.
The mischievous set is jinxed, entrances are late, Trevor (Rob Falconer), the lighting and sound man, is too busy texting to notice his cues, and the actors are dire.
In reality this is a hysterically funny, original, inspired, laugh-out-loud comedy by the supremely talented members of Mischief Theatre who not only act in the production but are also responsible for its creation.
The show, which features a very clever set designed by Nigel Hook, comes across as typical fare for Edinburgh Fringe – where it’s played and been hugely successful – or a skit by uni students, which is, in essence, what it is.
Mischief’s roots are in the classroom and its founder members were all graduates from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA).
Their tutors must be delighted with the success for The Play That Goes Wrong has already been a smash hit in the West End and is due to return following this national tour.
No-one’s told this bunch of daredevils that ’ealth and safety rules apply as they skilfully risk life and limb in a series of jaw-dropping stunts and beautifully choreographed set pieces.
Henry Lewis, deftly holds the set together as am-dram actor Robert finds himself marooned in a mezzanine library. Will the whole thing collapse we collectively gasp?
Henry Shields, as Chris, the show’s “dir-ect-orr,” doubles up as the thriller’s Inspector Carter, played with more than a touch of John Cleese.
Dave Hearn’s turn as Cecil Haversham in the whodunnit, is priceless. As Max, the aspiring actor, he applauds himself, mugs at the audience, and, last night, exchanged nods with three chuckling pensioners in a circle box.
The butler can’t remember his lines or pronounce his words; the leading ladies (Charlie Russell and Nancy Wallinger) scrap on stage; and expect to see the most animated corpse ever to appear in a murder (Greg Tannahill).
It’s an absolute joy and you’ll be crying with laughter from beginning to end.
My only niggle was that a lot of key gags take place around the set’s mantelpiece on the left of the stage which a lot of us, sitting on that side, were unable to see.
The Play That Goes Wrong continues at Royal & Derngate until Saturday. It then tours to Cambridge, Bath, Darlington, Southend, Eastbourne and Leeds.
For dates go to www.theplaythatgoeswrong.com