Brighton stage chaos as The Play That Goes Wrong hits town

Expect complete chaos on stage as The Play That Goes Wrong heads to Theatre Royal Brighton (November 15-20).

The Play That Goes Wrong
The Play That Goes Wrong

But the point is that it will be carefully, beautifully orchestrated chaos – and that’s the great joy of the piece, the thing which keeps the repeat customers coming back. As Edward Howells, who plays Dennis, says, there is great craft to the piece.

Winning multiple awards including the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and a Tony Award for the Broadway transfer, The Play That Goes Wrong is now in its seventh year in the West End and has become a global phenomenon with productions in more than 35 countries and across six continents.

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The play features the (fictional) Cornley Drama Society who are putting on a 1920s murder mystery The Murder at Haversham Manor, but as the title suggests, everything that can go wrong … does! As the accident-prone thesps battle against all the odds to reach their final curtain call, hilarious results ensue…

Edward is delighted to be back on the road with it.

“We started out again in July. We were very quick to get back out there. They tried to put it on tour at Christmas but when the country went back into lockdown obviously that didn’t happen. I first did the show back in 2017 around the UK and then we went abroad to Hong Kong and New Zealand. New Zealand was just like doing it over here, pretty much the same, but in Hong Kong there was a bit of a language barrier so the show was surtitled which was a bit strange sometimes when there was a verbal gag and you would get the laughter a few seconds after it had happened which obviously wasn’t ideal! But it was just great to be in Hong Kong. It is a very busy and hectic place but you can get out into the country and you can do some great walks. I loved it.

“I was not with the show last March (when the first lockdown was imposed). After the UK tour I did a year in the West End and that came to an end early in 2019, so I was not with the show when all the world collapsed. I was mostly just looking for work at that time, but actually my partner had a much harder time because she was working remotely and she found working to be quite stressful. She works in marketing running a team and that was quite difficult when you’re doing it remotely, but also she is a much more sociable creature than I am. I don’t get bored on my own. I always manage to find plenty of things to do! And also the way the self-employment support scheme from the government worked, it was based on three good years for me so I was quite lucky. I know a number of my friends were not quite so fortunate.”

But it is obviously lovely to get back to work now: “I finished with the show in early 2019 but whenever I finish a show I always find that six months later I start thinking about particular things, just thinking about it again and thinking about little moments in the play that I could have done better or could have done differently, just slightly different takes and then I start thinking wouldn’t it be good to have a chance to have another go at it again. When they asked me to come back at Christmas to do the tour I thought yes great, obviously because it was work, but also because I was wanting to get back to it.

“We get a lot of repeat customers and I don’t know exactly what it is that makes people come back but I think it is because it is so well orchestrated. You can really appreciate how well crafted it is when you have seen the show a bunch of times. Obviously the timing is absolutely crucial. You have got to be so on the ball and the other thing is that you have got to be really generous to each other on the stage. You have to know when it is your moment and when it is somebody else’s moment. I don’t think it’s really hard. I think it just really depends on experience ...”

and also on the direction and also knowing where the centre of attention needs to be.”

Part of the attraction is that is also very much in the great Fawlty Towers tradition: “You feel the director (who is on the stage as part of the company that is trying to mount the amateur production which is at the heart of the show), and you can feel his frustration mounting just like Basil Fawlty and there is also something a bit Basil Fawlty like in the character, and there is another character running around that is perhaps a bit like Manuel. There are all these great stock characters that go back through the history of theatre through commedia dell’arte and Shakespeare and they’re all part of the same tradition. It is just the extent to which the characters are fleshed out that makes them different.”