“SURPRISE, surprise” is the cry that in many a story goes up as our hero opens the door to find a room full of friends waiting to give them a surprise party. So far no one has thrown a surprise party for me, but under director Sean Turner’s clever reworking of Mark Bell’s original, this new production of The Play That Goes Wrong proved to be a most welcome and happy surprise.
When last seen (for the third time) although you could still admire the comedy skills of the players, the whole idea of watching an amateur company making mistake after mistake as they tried to present a mystery thriller looked a little as if it had passed its sell-by date. To say that the play looked rejuvenated under the new management team with its big change in acting personnel would be putting it mildly.
On this the first night of a nationwide tour, the company united as if they had been playing together as long as famous farce teams in the past like the Whitehall team under Brian Rix and the Aldwych company who performed the classic Ben Travers farces.
This team played out the most outrageous situations and dialogue as if they were Shakespeare, Ibsen or Chekhov, and the more seriously they took matters, the funnier the situations and dialogue became. Everything went along at a cracking pace, as it must if a farce is to be successful.
In such circumstances, it takes courage and skill to take a pull of the reins and take a pause, as any top jockey will tell you, but under Sean Turner’s guidance this group had that confidence, and often those pauses and silences were as effective at producing comedy as all the frantic, always well choreographed, running around.
Because of the enthusiasm shown by the cast, you really felt that they were performing these routines for the first time, even old mimed gags like a door being slammed into the face of the person standing behind it, rendering them unconscious, looked fresh, and drew their fair share of laughter.
A talking point for many leaving the theatre was whether the announcement asking for the audience’s indulgence whilst the front of house curtains were lowered in order for a technical fault to be put right, was genuine, or another twist in the tail of this farcical comedy. Whatever the reason for the slight pause in proceedings when the curtains were again raised, a wonderful sequence of comedy business was unleashed as the second floor study floor collapsed, leaving those in the room struggling to hold on to the furnishings and threatening disaster to those placed below them.
This production is very much a team effort, not just those on stage, but those responsible behind the scenes ensuring that parts of the set collapse at the right moment, articles fall off walls perfectly on cue, lighting and sound are spot on for a comedy freeze by the actors … and much more.
Can the company keep up the enthusiasm and energy displayed at Bath throughout the long tour? Well, west country audiences have two opportunities to check on the state of play when The Play That Goes Wring arrives at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth from 27th June until 2nd July, and again from the 4th to 9th of July at Bristol Hippodrome.