Review: The Play That Goes Wrong (Mirvish)

Photo of Clifton Duncan, Harrison Unger, Mark Evans and Alex Mandell by Jeremy DanielAfter runs in London and on Broadway the hit comedic play opens in Toronto

The Play That Goes Wrong recently played successful runs in London’s West End and on Broadway and I admit, I’m a bit baffled by its success. Rarely do you see a non-musical play on Broadway that doesn’t cast a celebrity in a lead role. It’s also the kind of screwball, slapstick comedy that would typically play in smaller, Off-Broadway size theatres, but last night the show opened in Toronto’s large Ed Mirvish Theatre in front of a packed house, so there’s obviously an audience for it.

Written by a trio of comedy writers; Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, The Play That Goes Wrong is exactly what the title says: a performance of a play that goes wildly and hilariously off the rails. 

The premise is that we, the audience, are attending an amateur performance of the Cornley University Drama Society’s production of a by-the-numbers murder mystery play called “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” Unfortunately for the scrappy young company, everything that can go wrong during the performance does: actors forget lines, the set falls apart, the leading lady gets knocked out, etc. Much to our amusement, it’s all done with a madcap, over-the-top, outlandish flair. 

The Play That Goes Wrong is a back-stage comedy of sorts, vaguely reminiscent of Noises Off. The play is an import from Britain but don’t expect the wit of Noël Coward or the weird absurdism of Monty Python. The show relies on a decidedly old-fashioned style of humour full of pratfalls and slapstick physical comedy harking back to the Three Stooges.

The show may have played on Broadway but it definitely isn’t Book of Mormon, or Avenue Q or even Spamalot. There’s not a hint of irony, irreverence or satire. It is not at all sophisticated. What you see is what you get and what you get is an evening of safe, inoffensive, strictly middlebrow physical comedy that relies on the goofiness of the performance rather than the writing for laughs.

However, it’s tightly paced—even if the show is about a half-hour longer than it needs to be—and superbly performed by a talented ensemble of actors who are adept at pulling off the type of physical humour that is required to make this show work.

While it’s not the type of thing I’d typically go to see, The Play That Goes Wrong is kind of endearing in its old-fashioned quality. It’s the type of comedy that’s universal, which makes it very accessible. It’s a show I could take my grandma to and she would completely get it. I enjoyed it for what it was, as did the audience on opening night who laughed heartily throughout and gave it a warm ovation at the end. It may be the Olive Garden of Broadway comedies but I say pass the garlic breadsticks and never-ending pasta bowl.

Details:

  • The Play That Goes Wrong is playing at the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria Street) through February 10, 2019
  • Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday at 1:30 p.m., and  Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., 
  • Tickets $29.00 to $129.00
  • Tickets are available by phone at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333, in-person at the Ed Mirvish Theatre box office or online at Mirvish.com

Photo of Clifton Duncan, Harrison Unger, Mark Evans and Alex Mandell by Jeremy Daniel

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