PLAYS have been notoriously “going wrong” since they began, probably long before Shakespeare included the Mechanicals as Pyramus and Thisbe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and through the later part of the 20th century we have been treated to Michael Green’s various Coarse Acting versions of plays, the Farndale Avenue Housing Estate Townswomen’s Guild’s badly produced shows, as seen at Sturminster Newton last week, professional theatre-based farce such as Michael Frayn’s Noises Off, and television variations, best exemplified by Victoria Wood et al in Acorn Antiques.
The latest incarnation of this genre is currently touring the country prior to a West End residency in September, and following rave reviews on the London and Edinburgh fringes. What began as a short, one-act play in which an amateur dramatics society puts on a 1920s whodunnit, has been extended to a full-length play, complete with collapsing scenery, injured actors, stilted performers, one of whom has his more difficult words written on his hand and struggles even to pronounce some of them, and a plot with a twist that is dangerously similar to that most famous whodunnit of all, still running in the West End after 62 years!
This is amateur theatre at its very worst, of the type you would never actually see all at once in the same place, performed with a slick deftness and virtuosity, to absolute perfection. While the stretching of the material from one to two hours may have made it a little laboured in places, this full-scale production gives the company the opportunity (and budget) to build a clever set which can convincingly fall apart, with pyrotechnics and hydraulics, design a programme with two sets of cast photographs and biographies, and use the time to repeat one section of the text at least six times and to play the slapstick and physical humour to the limit, and occasionally perhaps just over the limit.
I was possibly feeling very defensive towards amateur dramatics, having been lucky enough to have been involved with some extremely high quality drama in North Dorset over the past 30 years, but I would have liked to have seen the extra time used to bring a little more humanity – some of the real lives behind the actors brought onto the stage, so that we develop some sympathy with the actors in the play, rather than just laughing at their mishaps, and time taken to develop the real characters, instead of the nods toward previous bad-acting plays, reminding me very much of Farndale Avenue plays, Noises Off and Acorn Antiques in places.
That should not take anything away from the high standard of timing, physical dexterity and top-notch acting on show in this play, and for sheer comedy and a fun night out, I would heartily recommend a trip to see this Play go wrong. If it proves successful enough this could be the start of something big: the team have already written a Peter Pan and a Nativity which also “Go Wrong”.
Photographs Alastair Muir