The Play That Goes Wrong/Malvern Theatres

IF there’s one person who deserves the top accolade in this crash, bang, wallop of a show then it must be set designer Nigel Hook.

Just when you thought that the scenery situation couldn’t get any more calamitous, then along comes a further catastrophic collapse that makes the previous one pale in significance.

For this hilarious satire on the legendary reputation of accident-prone amateur dramatics goes from mild mishap to full-blown Armageddon. What starts as a door refusing to open, slowly - and awfully - degenerates into a nightmare of tumbling carpentry, an onstage Titanic disaster only with a lot, lot more laughs.

Director Mark Bell must have had a ball with this glorious maelstrom of madcap and mayhem, quite obviously drawing from the well of the classic British farce, skilfully blending the best of Brian Rix’s Whitehall capers with the European tradition of mime and other related forms of visual humour.

Seasoning this rich stew are all the myriad situations that can and often do go wrong in am-dram. Timing blunders, fluffed lines, guns that don’t go off when they’re supposed to, plus the aforesaid avalanches of props and scenery… yes, you name it and it’s here in this relentlessly hysterical two hours and five minutes.

None of this insanity would work without the sheer energy of the superb actors of Mischief Theatre, who are called upon to perform many physically demanding routines, some of which make you fear for their safety.

Whether it’s being hoisted bodily through a gaping window, whacked in the face by a slammed door, or balancing on a ledge that has just had its support beam pushed away, it seems that there is nothing this talented team won’t attempt.

At times, it appears that some of slapstick makes demands that in any other production would require the services of a stuntman. It’s a mystery – and indeed a wonder – that no one seems any the worse, despite experiencing what appears to be an endless catalogue of physical misfortune.

Writers Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer have created a comic masterpiece with The Play That Goes Wrong, neatly but affectionately casting a spotlight on the great institution that is amateur theatre and all the trials and tribulations faced by those countless heroic souls who dare to tread the boards.

This production is literally a laugh a second, and without doubt a chortling chunk of entertainment that simply should not be missed. It runs until Saturday (July 22).

John Phillpott