THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG Proves Good Comedy is No Joke

If laughter is the best medicine, then Theatre Raleigh’s production of The Play That Goes Wrong might be deemed a bona fide cure-all.

Originally conceived as a one-act play by Mischief Theatre, an improv troupe formed by graduates of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA), The Play That Goes Wrong follows the classic play-within-a-play trope. Here, a bush-league theater group is putting on a whodunnit play, Murder at Haversham Manor. Mindless mayhem ensues as the walls come tumbling down around this Machiavellian crew.

Mischief’s West End production of The Play That Goes Wrong has been running for eight years, earned an Olivier Award, and spawned a handful of offspring overseas, including a television series for the BBC. The show ran on Broadway for nearly two years before launching a North American tour and transferring to an off-Broadway theater, where it is still playing.

Of course, replicating Mischief Theatre’s signature brand of “carefully choreographed chaos” is no joke. The absurd needs to feel somehow plausible (at least in the world of the play), the timing needs to be precise, and the actors must work in tandem like a well-oiled machine. Fortunately, under the artful wand of Director Tim Seib, this Theatre Raleigh production ticks all the boxes.

Led by Happy Mahaney, who plays Haversham’s over-the-top director Chris, Seib’s cast (and crew) draw the audience into the ridiculousness from start. Theirs is a delicate dance of technically complex pratfalls and spills made to look swift and spontaneous.

Scenic Designer Chris Bernier’s clever set creates an ample playground for miscues and sight gags with built-in (albeit hidden) safety measures in place to protect the actors from harm.

In her program notes, Producing Artistic Director Lauren Kennedy Brady calls this production “a love letter” to theater-makers and theater lovers, and it absolutely is. It’s like an ambitious puzzle in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, perseverance transcends predictability, and the payoff is remarkably gratifying.

The Play That Goes Wrong runs through September 25 at Theatre Raleigh. For more information visit https://theatreraleigh.com/.

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