The first of a series of three sold-out shows began in St. John’s on November 24, as “The Play that Goes Wrong – High School Edition” celebrated its opening night.
Penned by U.K. playwrights Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayer in 2012, “The Play that Goes Wrong” had its first run in London. It made its Broadway debut in 2017, and recently made its way to St. John’s, NL thanks to the efforts of Mad as Hops Productions, a local theatre company that produces modern plays with young adults. These are not your typical school plays mind you, and this latest production is no exception.
Audiences who attended the trio of shows–held in the Barbara Barrett Theatre in the basement of the Arts and Culture Centre–were greeted by an elaborate set, transporting them into an elegant 1920s home.
Before the lights went down, the cast was already in character, bouncing around the stage to fiddle with props. It seemed like a last-minute set check, as they opened and closed curtains, lamented over a broken broom, and got visibly annoyed with one another. Eventually, the audience realized this was not just a final evaluation ahead of the show – it was all part of the act.
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A play within a play, “The Play that Goes Wrong” opened with an introduction by the Cornley Drama Society’s director (Jack Mosney), who also portrays the inspector in “The Murder at Haversham Manor.”
The director jokingly thanked the audience members who were present despite a “box office screw-up,” making an amusing local reference to the upcoming sold-out Kellie Loder show happening at the Arts and Culture Centre, just upstairs.
“The Murder at Haversham Manor” began with, well – a murder at Haversham Manor, where engagement party guests were shocked to find Charles Haversham (Cole Williams), the groom-to-be, dead on the chaise lounge.
It was then that our comedy of errors truly began. The “dead” man started reacting to external stimuli while the “empty” bottle of booze he supposedly consumed was clearly still full. The set furniture fell apart, lines were mispronounced, stage directions were said aloud, and sound cues were mucked up by Trevor (Silas Murray), the ultra-stressed sound technician.
Perkins (Jayla Jacobs) the maid, Cecil Haversham (Cam Johnston) the brother, Florence Colleymoore (Addison Brooklyn) the fiancé, and Thomas Colleymore (Owen Carter) her brother, all reacted to the death of Charles in varying ways, and then proceeded with finger pointing.
The plot of this “whodunnit” thickened as the audience learned of a shocking affair between Florence and her dead fiancé’s brother Cecil. Meanwhile, Trevor’s patience thinned as the set continued to fall apart around the actors, causing stagehands to step in and act as furniture.
The chaos only escalated as the Inspector arrived to investigate the murder. More challenges arose when Florence got accidentally knocked unconscious, requiring stage manager (Hannah Roberts) to step into the role, script in hand.
The cast soon got stuck in a hilarious loop, where they all ended up delivering the same lines in the same scene over and over. They grew increasingly frustrated with each go-around before intermission provided some relief.
Even during the intermission, the cast of “The Play that Goes Wrong” stayed in character, flirting with audience members and offering autographs.
Throughout it all, I kept thinking about the skill required to perform truly bad acting really well. Imagine giving an accomplished musician an instrument and telling them to play it poorly, on purpose. How would they do it? Could they even do it at all?
While I won’t give away the show’s ending and tell you “whodunnit,” I can say you missed a great show. Based on the endless laughter from the crowd throughout this zany performance, the cast and crew of “The Play that Goes Wrong” certainly got it right in many ways.