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PREVIEW: Hilarious The Play That Goes Wrong Opens Tomorrow (Hennepin Theatre Trust)

Things quickly start going wrong to hilarious effect during The Play Goes Wrong‘s play-within-a-play The Murder at Haversham Manor, which opens at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN on Tuesday, May 7. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Making fun of theatre is a very British tradition. While many U.S. theatre audiences are familiar with Noises Off, fewer know that it’s just one of a wide genre of plays about theatrical magic fizzling into comedic farce. One of the best, The Play That Goes Wrong, opens tomorrow at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.

What’s that, you say? How can something that goes wrong be funny? The answer is a fundamental principle of slapstick – things go wrong on such a large scale, and to such catastrophic effect, that it becomes ridiculous and humorous at once. It’s a principle that underlies much of Monty Python and the panto theatre genre (e.g., the Potted Potter tour that visited in February).

How did this get here? Set-pieces topple, props get swapped, and that’s before the lines get all muddled up in The Play That Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The basic premise of The Play That Goes Wrong is that the extremely low-budget Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society has received a lot of money to stage the mystery The Murder at Haversham Manor. They’re over their heads and none of the low or high-budget effects go right, actors freak out and miss lines, and lots of things break.

If this starts to sound like something you saw on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, strike that from your memory – that contrived preview was terrible. Instead, watch an actual excerpt of the show that was selected for the Royal Variety Performance in 2015, London’s most prestigious theatre showcase:

Or, to get another idea of some of the gags awaiting you, watch a clip from the same creators’ hilarious Peter Pan Goes Wrong.

Some History

The Play That Goes Wrong first opened in London in 2012, where it still plays today after several venue moves and national tours; seeing the show has become a London tourist staple. A Broadway production that opened in 2017 reunited the original London cast, running for two years before transferring Off-Broadway for a still-ongoing run. That, too, is turning out to be a word-of-mouth favorite for NYC visitors in the know. The New York Times raved about it, and film director J.J. Abrams is such a fan that it convinced him to become one of the show’s producers.


My thoughts run like this: It’s hard to see those bits and not run straight to the box office saying, “Take my money! I need to see the rest!” Something is very wrong in The Play That Goes Wrong, and it’s in all the right ways.

The cast and crew of the play-within-a-play of The Play That Goes Wrong tries to remove an unconscious actor from the stage…without drawing attention to themselves. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
Amy Donahue