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REVIEW: Roaring Laughs Abound in The Play That Goes Wrong (Orpheum/Hennepin Theatre Trust)

Angela Grovey and Scott Cote look on in terror as part of the set bursts into flame in The Play That Does Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

As the lights came up for intermission last night at the Orpheum Theatre, the person behind me turned to their companion and said, “Wow! I don’t know the last time I laughed so hard!” Many similar comments were voiced by different audience members as I made my way out the back of the theatre and off to the PNC Encore Lounge.

The Play That Goes Wrong is not a show to see if you’ve just had an appendectomy, did Ab Day at the gym, or anything else that might cause two hours of continuous belly laughter to be a painful experience. This show is a real riot and a hoot, and that’s just the first ten minutes. It gets crazier, funnier, and more filled with “Wait, did that just happen?” and “Oh, my gosh, that looks so real!” moments as the show unfolds. The first act by itself would make a splendid evening. Seeing how the writers, cast, and crew manage to top it in Act II is exquisite.

The cast and crew of the play-within-a-play of The Play Goes Wrong tries to remove an unconscious actor from the stage…without drawing attention to themselves. Naturally, it fails spectacularly. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The basic premise of The Play That Goes Wrong is that a struggling college theatre club has received a large amount of money to attempt a much more ambitious theatre production than normal. Most of the actors for the show-within-a-show are in well over their heads, the set progressively malfunctions and falls apart, and when props get mixed up, well…suffice it to say that there are some truly impressive spit-takes.

One of the ways that The Play That Goes Wrong‘s comedy turns is that it plays off instantly recognizable tropes about thespians. It also taps into a few more Britishisms, like heckling and talking about to the audience. You will quickly pick out who’s playing the stentorian “This is serious theatre!” actor (Robert Grove), the control freak actor-director (Chris Bean), the put-upon stage manager (Annie Twilloil), the devil-may-care techie (Trevor Watson), and others (Max Bennett, Sandra Wilkinson, and Jonathan Harris). All are brilliant in embodying their characters and playing through some incredible physical comedy.

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.

Bad theatre is easy enough to do unintentionally. The carefully crafted terrible theatre of The Play That Goes Wrong is simply hilarious from start to finish. Make sure to read the fake actor bios in the program – they’re even better than those in the Hedwig tour.

The Play That Goes Wrong runs through May 12 at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, MN.

Basil Considine