When all around is strife and uncertainty, there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned plate of… farce. Thirty-seven years after its debut performance at the Lyric Hammersmith, Michael Frayn’s play of backstage antics bleeding into on stage catastrophe is as thigh-slappingly funny as ever.
For West End audiences used to the meta-theatricality of Mischief Theatre’s ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ will find themselves on familiar territory here – Mischief’s hugely successful show it essentially a full-length take on Frayn’s final act. What this production allows however is a look behind the scenes, seeing the love triangles, squabbles and gossip that take places in corners the audience normally cannot see. Act One introduces the array of wonderfully exuberant characters in rehearsal, Act Two takes us literally behind the scenes to show how love breaks this particularly touring company apart, and Act Three takes us further along the tour when the actor’s exasperation causes absolute chaos onstage.
The joy is seeing all the jokes set up in Act One come to fruition in Act Three. Jeremy Herrin’s production keeps the energy high and the pace quick. His ensemble leap to the challenge. Sarah Hadland is gossipy dame using balletic posture and glued on grins to see the show through. Richard Henders plays an excellent Frederick Fellowes, epitomising the actor seeking meaning for every move he makes. Simon Rouse plays a drunken octogenarian with aplomb and Lloyd Owen is a suitably sarcastic and exasperated director. Meera Syal, as Dotty Otley, lives up to her name, unable to remember when to bring sardines on and when to bring them off.
Max Jones’ set is nicely modern, and the costumes fit into the present day well. This is pastiche of a genre that will always please. The audience tonight was guffawing in the stalls. My only reservation is in the casting – it could have been a little more inventive. That aside, this is a gloriously silly evening of comedy that will leave anyone with sore cheeks and good spirits. Fans of Mischief Theatre would be advised to check this out, along with anyone else interested in the theatricality of theatre and what madcap relationships go on behind the scenes. It might leave you wondering why anyone would get involved in the game of theatre. But it’s the precariousness of live theatre itself that will always be the most entertaining thing on stage.
“a fantastic show for young audiences and their families”
This show is quite literally, explosive, in both its energy and experiments. It certainly delivers more than the snap, crackle and pop from your morning cereal! Based on the original Sky TV show made by ITV studios, Brainiac Live! is a series of experiments, using everyday situations and making them extraordinary. It is a dazzling display of how exciting science can be. The four ‘Brainiacs’, fronted by ‘Ned’ (Andy Joyce), have an infectious energy, so you can’t help but become engrossed in the action. The whole cast put their all into the production and it was evident that they were truly passionate about experiments.
Audience members enter the theatre that has been transformed into a seemingly abandoned laboratory. Hazard tape, upturned warning cones and old radioactive barrels make you feel as if you have stumbled upon a secret location where exciting and dangerous events are to come. This is echoed in the use of lighting (Glyn Edwards), which uses flashes of light that scan through the audience as if on a helicopter search. There is a sense of peril as often writer and director Andy Joyce, suggests that this is the first time the actors are trying the experiments. This made the already exciting series of spectacles even more gripping.
This is a fantastic show for young audiences and their families. At no point did I feel alienated for being an older audience member – we were welcomed with open arms. Whilst most of the jokes were aimed at children, there were comedic moments for the whole family. An example of this was when ‘Raz’ (Maggie Frazer) tested the audience’s hearing by playing differently pitched noises. This marked the difference between young and ‘more experienced’ ears, who could hear less.
The experiments flowed seamlessly between each other, leaving no moments for audience distraction. The aftermath required stage clean up and this time was cleverly filled by interactive videos on a large projector (Odinn Orn Hilmarsson). These included showing optical illusions, doing number quizzes and explaining why we mishear song lyrics. The content used was modern making the show feel relevant and up to date. However, there was only one female character and one small section making reference to female inventors, which felt a bit clunky and underdeveloped.
Ultimately, the loud bangs, colourful flares and smoke clouds steal the show. Although, this is not its only strength – this show has beauty, and brains. The content is informative too as it teaches about the science behind the experiments. At every point where there are loud noises, a warning is given to cover your ears, making it accessible to more nervous audience members. You simply can’t go wrong with this fun, exciting show that is carried by the sheer energy of the performers.