This year’s Olivier winner for best comedy is a daffy trifle with the apt title The Play That Goes Wrong, in which the decidedly amateur (and amateurish) Cormley Polytechnic Drama Society mounts an ill-fated production of a drawing-room mystery called The Murder at Haversham Manor. Dropped lines and dropped props are the order of the day, and the players — who include co-writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayers, and Henry Shields — miss their marks with broad comic precision. It’s a bit like panto for grown-ups.
Like many an amateur production of the sort this show sends up, The Play That Goes Wrong manages to outstay its welcome and dissipate its considerable charms over time. There is, after all, a fine line between repetition for comic effect and the tedium of beating a punchline until it is good and dead. I suspect the show may have played better at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it originated two years ago, before it was inflated to a two-act production now at the Duchess Theatre in the West End. Still, there are advantages to a West End budget — including an ingeniously designed set (by Nigel Hook) whose shabbiness becomes more pronounced over time until it ultimately collapses altogether. Grade: B