The West End transfer of this farce where a play within a play painfully into chaos.
This new comedy has, of course, actually done everything right. Produced by young LAMDA graduates Mischief Theatre, the show has had successful runs at the Trafalgar Studios, and in Edinburgh; this is its first airing in its shiny new Covent Garden home. Amid all the chatter about the overbearing West End dominance of jukebox musicals and film spin-offs, it’s cheering to see a dynamic young company land slap-bang in the middle of Theatreland.
The show is a farcical play-within-a-play. Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are mounting a production of a hoary old sub-‘Mousetrap’ mystery called ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’. From the first moment, in which a hapless stage manager attempts to secure a collapsing mantelpiece, we suspect that things are not going to go to plan. And that, indeed, is the case, as the production shudders painfully into chaos, taking in everything from dropped lines to disintegrating sets, intra-cast fighting, technical malfunctions of the highest order, and an unexpectedly resuscitated corpse.
The show sits in a fine tradition of British slapstick, and of plays about theatrical blunders: its debt to Michael Frayn’s hilarious ‘Noises Off’, about the gradual disintegration of a touring rep production, is considerable. This is, to be fair, acknowledged by the play’s marketing, which calls it — correctly — ‘“Fawlty Towers” meets “Noises Off”’. But the trouble is that anyone who has seen, and loved, ‘Noises Off’, is likely to find the comparison unfavourable: Frayn’s play simply does all the same things, and does them better.
Still, there are laughs to be had here, and the production is a technical triumph: ensuring that props and sets collapse on cue, without actually injuring anyone, is a genuine feat of stage management.