More than 50 years ago I travelled to London's Whitehall Theatre to see the late Brian Rix starring in one of his ridiculously hilarious farces and now, thanks to The Play That Goes Wrong which opened in Milton Keynes last night, the memories of those crazy days came flooding back.
Just like those Brian Rix's Whitehall farces – incidentally the theatre was renamed the Trafalgar Studios back in 2004 – The Play That Goes Wrong is a clever over-the-top piece of comic theatre and it's no wonder that numerous West End and International awards have been bestowed upon it as it enters it's third year.
The play features local drama group, The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, whose new production is an Agatha Christie-style murder-mystery called Murder at Haversham Manor.
Set in the late 1920s, the amateur group encounter catastrophe after catastrophe as things go hopelessly and hilariously wrong from the opening scenes – it's all reminiscent of dear old Lord Rix's productions of those 1950s/60s heydays.
Co-written by three members of the Mischief Theatre Company – Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields – they've come up with every slapstick joke known to man along with every physical and crazy comedy routine without actually injuring one another. And it all adds up to plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, cracking timing and great fun for the audience and for the cast alike.
Before curtain up, a couple of cast members walk through the audience calling out as if looking for their dog Winston. After that, the entire amateur drama society members struggle with their lines, miss their cues while their props are either misplaced or just go missing.
However it would be unfair to retell any of the jokes or the plot lines as it could spoil it for those wishing to see the show which plays Milton Keynes Theatre until this Saturday.
What I can reveal is that the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and its acting Director Chris is played by Jake Curran (who also doubles up as Police Inspector Carter) and who tries to keep his cool when everything around him seems to fall apart.
He has something of a John Cleese manner as a straight man in many of those old Monty Python sketches and while it's all totally over the top, I couldn't help feeling that Basil Fawlty had vacated Fawlty Towers for the evening and joined in.
Elena Valentine’s Sandra (who plays Florence Colleymore) is looking for her moment of fame while her brother Thomas Colleymore – played by Kazeem Tosin Amore playing Robert … yes it's all very confusing! – delivers some cracking one liners, especially when he's propping up the collapsing scenery.
There's some fantastic self-conscious facial expressions towards the audience from Max (Bobby Hirston) who plays the clumsy Cecil Haversham and Arthur the Gardener. As a first timer on the boards he's clearly stage struck while his brother Charles Haversham (Steven Rostance as Jonathan) is the first to die… or does he?
Meanwhile Catherine Dryden’s is a coy Annie who ends up in dispute as she plays the same role as a defrocked Sandra, with both trying to outdo the other. Also worthy of mention is Benjamin McMahon as Dennis who excels as Haversham Manor's dopey butler Perkins, especially in the sequence when the main characters get themselves into a loop and repeat the same lines over and over again.
The Play That Goes Wrong delivers slapstick comedy in the cleverest way and it certainly left me grinning like a Cheshire cat. In fact the highest praise you can ever give a performance is with a standing ovation… and on this occasion it was richly deserved!
The Play That Goes Wrong remains at Milton Keynes Theatre until this Saturday (28 April) with shows at 7.30pm nightly and matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets from the box office on 0844 871 7652 or online at www.atgtickets.co.uk/miltonkeynes