Review: "The Play That Goes Wrong" Australian National Tour 2017

Jess Zintschenko

OnStage Australian Critic

I attended The Play That Goes Wrong in Melbourne knowing nothing about the show other than it seems to use the same comedic style of advertising as Something Rotten and I could get cheap tickets to a preview so there was nothing to lose. Sometimes not researching a show or a movie before you see it makes the experience even better as you have no expectations of how good/bad it is going to be.

Although if you are reading this review then you obviously do want to know more about the show before you go see it, unless you’ve already seen it and are searching for opinions which match your own feelings.

After seeing the show I wanted to do nothing but rave and tell everyone I know, particularly those who have been heavily involved in community theatre, to go see it. But at the same time I didn’t want to tell them why. I didn’t want to spoil the show for them, I wanted them to have the same experience I did of being presented with something so incredibly relatable and yet utterly absurd.

The ‘play within a play’ follows the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and their production of The Murder At Haversham Manor, a very classically British Agatha Christie style murder-mystery. As the title suggests the play goes wrong, but not just wrong in the sense of ‘the audience don’t know what your lines are no one would have noticed’ wrong, as in everything that could go wrong does, in the most epic and hilarious of fashions.

There are plenty of rave reviews out there discussing how unbelievably funny, clever, well written and performed this show is. So much so my 68 year old father who would rather spend his weekend in the garden in his overalls than travelling to the city to see a play asked if there were matinee performances as he’s heard good things about it and wouldn’t mind going. I didn’t think twice and booked tickets. I can’t wait to see this show again, and to see it with someone who introduced me to classic British comedy such as Fawlty Towers, Monty Python and the work of Peter Sellers.  

The influence of all these and more can be seen in The Play That Goes Wrong, but for anyone who has ever been involved in community theatre, either directly or as an audience member, there is an added level of comedy (and tragedy) as you can relate to so many of the scenarios. Of course it is all a very heightened work of fiction but we’ve all seen, or had to deal with personally, overzealous and under-prepared performers, uncooperative or poorly made sets, first aid emergencies, technical failures and the like. 

The thing which makes me want to recommend The Play That Goes Wrong to everyone I meet regardless of whether or not they care for theatre is the fact it has the best physical comedy from an ensemble cast I have ever seen live on stage. I loved the physical comedy of the cast of One Man, Two Guvnors, but this show is something else entirely. The cast are incredibly talented and so very believable that for all the slapstick, farce, commedia dell'arte style humour going on the audience were still gasping or cringing every single time something went wrong. Which was a lot.

The only slightly potential downside I could see would be for super theatre nerds who spend a lot of time creating, performing, or reviewing live performance – exhibit A: myself exhibit B: a lot of you who follow On Stage I’m assuming – is there’s something in the theatre brain which critically surveys the scene and can predict a lot of the catastrophes to come. That’s not to say you necessarily enjoy it any less it just means you’ve braced yourself for many, but not all, of the impending amdram dramas yet to unfold.

Enjoyable and exhausting. When going wrong goes oh so right.
The Play That Goes Wrong is playing at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne until 26th March before travelling to Adelaide, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth. Tickets and information available from 

Previews begin on Broadway March 9th. Tickets and information available from