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The Play That Goes Wrong is an absolute triumph

As audience members took their seats in the auditorium, an announcement was made from the stage-left box. Technician Trevor was on the hunt for a missing dog ­­— Winston — and desperately in need of the audience’s help. After looking under our seats, with no luck, it was already quite clear the marvellous chaos that was about to transpire. And my goodness, did things go wrong.

Edward Howells (Dennis), Tom Babbage (Max), Leonard Cook (Robert), Aisha Numah (Understudy), Damien James (Understudy), Gabriel Paul (Trevor), Laura Kirman (Annie), Edi De Melo (Understudy), Katie Hitchcock (Unerstudy), Seán Carey (Jonathan), April Hughes (Sandra) and Tom Bulpett (Chris). Photo: Robert Day
Edward Howells (Dennis), Tom Babbage (Max), Leonard Cook (Robert), Aisha Numah (Understudy), Damien James (Understudy), Gabriel Paul (Trevor), Laura Kirman (Annie), Edi De Melo (Understudy), Katie Hitchcock (Unerstudy), Seán Carey (Jonathan), April Hughes (Sandra) and Tom Bulpett (Chris). Photo: Robert Day

Mischief Theatre Company was founded in 2008 by a group of graduates of The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and began as an improvised comedy group. The Play That Goes Wrong is now into its 7th year in the West End at The Duchess Theatre.

It is a highly exaggerated play-within-a-play which sees the cast and crew of the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society put on a 1920s murder-mystery play entitled ‘Murder at Haversham Manor’. Hot on the heels of the society’s previous productions of The Lion and The Wardrobe, James and the Peach, and Cat, director Chris Bean (played by Tom Bulpett) certainly had high hopes for this performance.

Gabriel Paul (Trevor). Photo: Robert Day
Tom Babbage (Max) and April Hughes (Sandra). Photo: Robert Day
Leonard Cook (Robert), April Hughes (Sandra), Gabriel Paul (Trevor), Laura Kirman (Annie) and Seán Carey (Jonathan). Photo: Robert Day

But what occurred at the Birmingham Hippodrome was in fact two hours of magnificent mishaps, including a series of technical disasters, missed queues, props falling off walls, a door that wouldn’t stay shut, characters knocked unconscious and even a revived corpse.

The cast were excellent all-round and it would be impossible to pinpoint a weak link. Tom Bulpett’s director Chris Bean (who also doubled-up as Inspector Carter) was constantly teetering on the edge of a complete meltdown. His improvisation skills shone through during his verbal battle with the audience; his line ‘come back here’ to a gentleman who had popped to the toilet had the audience in hysterics.

Tom Babbage was delightful as Max (who doubled-up as Cecil Haversham and the gardener). His desperate need for the audience’s approval only added to his character’s appeal, as he frolicked around the stage, frequently bumping into parts of the set.

Edward Howells as Dennis (who played Perkins the butler) also supplied a lot of laughter when he mispronounced words and forgot an integral line which sent the rest of the cast into a frenzy of repetition.

Katie Hitchcock (Understudy), Leanord Cook (Robert), Edi De Melo (Understudy), Tom Bulpett (Chris), Tom Babbage (Max), Laura Kirman (Annie), Edward Howells (Dennis), Damien James (Understudy), Aisha Numah (Understudy), Seán Carey (Jonathan) and April Hughes (Sandra). Photo: Robert Day
Tom Babbage (Max). Photo: Robert Day
Tom Bulpett (Chris) and April Hughes (Sandra). Photo: Robert Day

I was particularly impressed by the localised element to the performance, embodied by the character of Trevor (Lighting & Sound Operator) – played by Gabriel Paul – who was obsessed with Birmingham band Duran Duran and spoke with a Midlands accent. Gabriel himself has a local connection and trained at Birmingham School of Acting.

It was wonderful to be back in the theatre for the first time since the start of the pandemic. Being in a room filled with eager theatregoers who were chatting, laughing, and fully immersed by the excitement on-stage, is really something ­– there really isn’t anything quite like it.

The Play That Goes Wrong is a triumph. Fast-paced, intense, and incredibly physical – a definite must see. The multi award-winning comedy will run throughout this week at Birmingham Hippodrome, from Wednesday October 27 to Saturday October 30.

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