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Perfecting Through Imperfections: The Play That Goes Wrong
An Se-bin  |  busybean11@hanyang.ac.kr
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[340호] 승인 2018.12.03  
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The Play That Goes Wrong is a slapstick comedy that people can watch without having to put in too much thought. Having premiered in England in 2012 and currently being performed in Korea, it has received well-respected awards. As the name promises, this play follows a hilarious production in which everything that could possibly go wrong actually goes wrong.

The Play that Goes Wrong is a play within a play. In this theatrical piece, a group of friends in Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society prepares to stage their new production-the 1920s murder mystery, Murder at Haversham Manor.

Prior to the beginning of the performance, a couple of crew members frantically race around at the front of the stage area. Some of them even break into where the audience is, asking them if they have seen a dog or a Duran Duran CD. As the performance begins and the curtain rolls up, the “crew” are still in the process of fixing and getting the stage prepared. Time runs out with an incomplete set, and the show begins. This becomes a foreshadowing effect in the play as the stage meticulously falls apart. For example, Trevor, the company’s punk-like and inept lighting and sound operator, tries to fix a door that keeps opening by itself. However, an ironic problem occurs later when nobody can open the door, and the actors have to secretly appear behind the curtains to enter the stage.

As the lights dim, Chris Bean, the president of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and also the leading actor of the play, Murder at Haversham Manor, comes up on stage to briefly introduce it to the audience.

Murder at Haversham Manor, revolves around solving the murder of Charles Haversham, played by a student named Jonathan. The audience senses a disaster, as the character that is supposed to be murdered in this play fails to act dead. As other characters gather around the supposedly dead body, Charles Haversham (Jonathan) keeps twitching and rolling his eyes. He even responds to other characters who step on his fingers by mistake. Surrounding Charles’ body, all the other characters in this play are introduced, such as the Colleymoore siblings, Thomas and Florence.

Thomas Colleymoore is a longtime friend of Charles Haversham and his sister, Florence, is Charles’ fiancée. Butler Perkins is Charles’ loyal worker, who has worked a long time for the Haversham family. Cecil Haversham is Charles’ younger brother, and Officer Carter is charge of interrogating the rest of the characters regarding Charles’ death. As the plot unfolds, the evidence unveils as to who is the murderer of Charles.

Around Charles’ dead body, the rest of the characters give a toast to Charles, but instead of drinking whiskey, they all drink white spirit, which is soon all spat out. No matter how hard they try, the actors fail to hide their disgust in front of the audience, while their lines positively praise the drink. This adds comedic value to the scene.

In order to inspect the supposedly “dead body”, Thomas Colleymoore and Butler Perkins try to move the body onto a stretcher and carry it out of the room. However, the stretcher ends up ripping apart, and they just move out of the room pretending to carry the body, while dead Charles lies face-first on the floor. He awkwardly acknowledges the situation, inches, crawls his way back to the door by himself, and leaves quickly, acting like a ghost when his eyes meet the rest of the characters on stage.

Meanwhile, Thomas Colleymoore and Butler Perkins are on the second floor of the stage, supposedly inspecting a dead body with Officer Carter. They converse with one another as if there is a dead body lying in front of them. However, the audience later witnesses Charles Haversham appearing behind them. As he comes in through the door, he lies down in front of them and pretends to have been lying there the whole time. While closely observing his body, they try to find clues that could explain the reason behind Charles’ murder.

Meanwhile, as the rest of the characters are on the second floor dealing with the murder mystery, on the first floor, Cecil Haversham and Florence Colleymoore are discussing their love for each other and their fears of possibly being suspected as Charles’ murderers.

The play goes on, but it becomes more of a disaster as props start to disappear. Actors go missing, and the set becomes increasingly dangerous. The actors struggle to keep their cool even as the set starts to fall apart. To discover the truth behind the murder of Charles Haversham, Officer Carter asks the characters to come into a room one by one to ask each of them a few questions. When Officer Carter is questioning Florence Colleymoore, props are improperly used, as the officer uses a flower vase as a paper and a set of keys as a pen.

Additionally, the dialogue between these two characters is not in-sync as Florence is one line ahead of the officer, answering his questions before he even asks them. Through an entertaining dialogue between these two characters, Florence gets upset that she is suspected as the murderer. As she panics and yells at the officer, she is hit by the door that her brother and Cecil opens. Thus, she is knocked unconscious during a certain part of the play, having a substitute later appear to recite her lines. As she lies on the ground, Officer Carter starts questioning Cecil Haversham in regards to the murder. While the two characters talk about what happened and why one is or is not guilty, Florence’s unconscious body is pulled first by a leg through the window and is carried off by the crew members of the play and other actors that are not inside the particular scene. When Cecil Haversham opens the curtains to see if it is dark outside, he faces the crew members and the rest of the actors, adding an unexpected laugh. 

In The Play That Goes Wrong, the nameless disasters go beyond imagination. When the building wall of the house collapses or when props get mistaken, it brings catharsis to the audience watching the play. One can also watch the play by focusing on the efforts of the actors and actresses doing their best to correct the performance in a situation, where it turns into a mess. Ironically, the actors in this work never want to be funny, but the audience finds ridiculousness and humor in every exaggerated movement of body language and acting. It makes the audience wonder whether anyone would even remain standing and alive by the end of the play. Intended disasters happen as the production is showcased, and it is so cleverly planned with the designed set which falls apart perfectly at the right time and at the right moment. This adds to the comedy and becomes an entertainment factor for the audience.

The play shows that a perfect ending is not necessary for it to be considered as a perfect play. Even when the set started to fall apart, and even if the cast members seemed to be messing up their roles, all parts in the play synchronized well together even through the mistakes. So in the end, the things that went wrong in the play ironically give the play its charm. There were several malfunctions too as the play progressed, but at the end, those glitches made the play go right.

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