This was nearly a case of the review that went wrong. I truly thought The Play That Goes Wrong opened on Thursday and it was only late on Wednesday I discovered my error and made a dash for the ASB Waterfront Theatre.

Still, had I arrived late and plunged into the auditorium noisily demanding to be let in because I was the reviewer the audience would have assumed it was all part of the act.

A play's title is a selling document and there can rarely have been a more accurate description of the evening we saw. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is to present The Murder at Haversham Manor, a murder mystery in the Agatha Christie style (and era) where all are trapped with the murderer among them.

It is not so much the genre they spoof but the sorts of thing that can go wrong in AmDram productions. The actors are not so much subservient to the plot as to the set - which lets them down (sometimes literally) badly. And hilariously.


A disarming introductory speech sets the tone by suggesting the company's limited acting personnel and hints at previous disasters. The play begins and things go wrong. No door will open properly, no fitting will remain in place, no clock, window, candlestick, sabre or anything handled by a character will perform as it should.

Lines are delivered wrongly and hilariously out of sequence. Actors shamelessly mug to the audience and the sound man neglects his duties. Even the corpse almost steals the show. In the second half, you wonder how things can possibly get worse but, happily, they do right up to the crashing finale.

It would be invidious to single out any individual cast member. This is a fine ensemble playing with those backstage contributing almost as much as those on. And a huge salute (and ample financial rewards, one hopes) to the original team that put it all together.

It owes quite a lot to The Art of Coarse Acting and something to Noises Off; it's a tad relentless and is perhaps a pity that the final bows aren't taken in the manner of the amateur company they'd purported to be all night.

But Oscar Wilde once said that a man must have a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell. In this case, you'd have to have a heart of stone not to have a grand time at The Play That Goes Wrong.

What: The Play That Goes Wrong
Where & when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until Sunday, October 22
Reviewer: Roger Hall