Those who get belly laughs out of farce and slapstick comedy will find plenty to guffaw over in the uproariously funny “The Play That Goes Wrong,” a Broadway gift from the Mischief Theatre in Britain and writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, all three of whom also star in the show.
Of course, there are always those who don’t appreciate this sort of humor. Pity them. Fortunately, I am not in that category, so I was uninhibitedly laughing aloud through much of the mayhem created on stage by this superb gang of actors who show themselves to be expert in physical comedy as well as dialogue meant to go with raised eyebrows.
The set-up is a group of inept university drama society players attempting to stage a mystery titled “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” The only mystery is what will go wrong next. Bravo to scenic designer Nigel Hook, who has created a booby-trapped set that becomes a major player creating an obstacle course for the gallant cast members.
As the show gets underway, we see game actors trying to put bits and pieces of the set together as they keep falling off. One member of the audience is recruited to assist, and on the night I saw the show, he was helplessly left trying to hold a plank in place while others went about their business. The audience was soon welcomed and cued in by an arch commentator, Henry Shields as Chris Bean, the inspector and director of the play within a play, who lets us know, for example, that the company’s budget problems led to the earlier production of “Two Sisters.”
It is useless to try to describe the plot and all of what ensues. Suffice it to say that excellent women performers, Charlie Russell and Bryony Corrigan, are uproariously funny as they get knocked unconscious or battle each other for the limelight. Their physical comedy is of the highest order, worthy of the best traditions of slapstick.
Ditto for the male cast members, who are trapped in an endless and bizarre state of affairs, whether trying to keep from sliding down a platform gone awry or one trying to play dead (Greg Tannahill) while those about sit on him or a stretcher dumps him on the floor.
Under the direction of Mark Bell, the mayhem persists with ingenious complications at virtually every turn. Memories of Monty Python may strike some audience members, who may also see comparisons between Shields and John Cleese. However, there isn’t much time to think about what one is seeing. The comedy comes at us swiftly, complete with surprises.
I could bestow an ensemble award for the lot, so smoothly do they mesh into the overall hysteria. “The Play That Goes Wrong” is in a way reminiscent of “Noises Off,” but there is more character development in that farce. Here the performers are just plain funny. I could easily see “The Play That Goes Wrong Again” in order to focus more on the individual triumphs. At the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 7, 2017.