In an audacious display of theatrical calamity, Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s “The Murder at Haversham Manor,” stakes its claim as perhaps the most disastrous debacle to ever grace the stage. From the ham-fisted acting to the perilously cobbled-together set, every aspect of this production was a masterclass in how not to do theatre.
Leading this farce was Chris Bean (Director/Inspector Carter), whose directorial “vision” was as clear as mud and just as sinking. Robert Grove (as Thomas Colleyrnoore) seemed to be an attempt at acting so wooden, one might fear termites. Sandra Wilkinson (Florence Colleymoore), fluttered across the stage with the grace of a startled flamingo. Max Bennett (Cecil Haversham/Arthur the gardener), delivered lines with the bewildering conviction of someone who’s just read them for the first time.
The set, crafted with a sense of danger only a stunt person could love, was a lawsuit waiting to happen. Yet, amidst this maelstrom of mediocrity, Annie Twilloil stood out as a beacon of endurance and fortitude, navigating the chaos with a poise that was nothing short of miraculous. She’s certainly a star in the making.
But fear not! This description is a facetious nod to the meta-theatrical nature of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” a production that, in reality, was a pre-planned triumph of comedic timing, ingenious set design, and exuberant performances.
In the tapestry of University Players (UP) Windsor’s production history, their staging of “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Essex Hall Theatre stands out as a comedic triumph, an intricate blend of physical comedy, meticulous timing, and a dose of chaos. Directed by Alice Nelson, this iteration of the internationally celebrated play transformed the venue into a whirlwind of laughter and seemingly unscripted hilarity. It opened last weekend and runs until December 3.
The set, a character in its own right, was an extravagant marvel to behold. Nancy Perrin’s design, prioritizing safety alongside functionality, crafted a multi-level wonder with an “elevator”, a chandelier, and elements that broke down in comedic timing. This set not only supported the comedy but heightened it, making the University Players’ version particularly memorable.
Central to the play’s success was the ensemble cast, each delivering a performance that resonated with both dedication and comedic finesse. Jackson Balint, as Chris Bean and Inspector Carter, anchored the production with his director-character’s desperate attempts to maintain order. Jeremiah McEachrane’s portrayal of Robert Grove and Thomas Colleymoore was a masterclass in physical comedy and timing. Natasha Fishman, as Sandra Wilkinson and Florence Colleymoore, brought a blend of grace and comedic awkwardness, while Rylan Thomas’s dual roles as Max Bennett, Cecil Haversham, and Arthur the gardener showcased a delightful versatility.
Leonhard Trautwein’s Dennis Hyde (Perkins) and Tobi Usman’s Jonathan Harris (Charles Haversham) added layers of humor with their unique character quirks. Perla Layman and Lilly Battista, as Trevor Watson and Annie Twilloil respectively, embodied the chaos behind, and in front of, the scenes, their performances crucial to the play’s meta-theatrical charm. John Liam Jones and Leila Laba, as Phil Phillips and Jill Jones, were the unsung heroes, their presence essential to the play’s seamless flow of mishaps.
The production’s charm was further amplified by the cast’s pre-show interaction with the audience, blurring the lines between performance and reality, and adding an intimate touch to the experience. The unorthodox delay due to extended rehearsals also served to heighten the anticipation and upcoming disasters, a testament to the dedication and professionalism of the UP team.
Alice Nelson’s direction shone through in the seamless integration of complex physical comedy and the meticulous orchestration of on-stage chaos. The collaboration with Jamie Treschak of Violence in Motion for safety in slapstick and sword fighting scenes underscored the professional approach within this educational setting. Nelson’s philosophy, prioritizing collaboration and embracing the unpredictability of live theatre, was evident in every aspect of the production.
The dual roles of the actors, playing both their characters in the murder mystery and the members of the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, added a delightful complexity to their performances. Their commitment to both the absurdity and the seriousness of their roles contributed to the play’s layered humor and charm.
And it was absolutely beautiful to watch.
In a city filled with theatre and musicals galore, THIS is the production that can’t be missed. “The Play That Goes Wrong” runs at Essex Hall Theatre until December 3. Tickets are available at universityplayers.com.