We went to the theatre last night. It felt like a strange novelty not just because we don't go to the theatre very often, but because it was the first time I'd been out in the evening for six weeks. We had tickets for The Play That Goes Wrong at the Mercury in Colchester, bought in about July of last year when the Systems Administrator spotted that it was on tour after rave reviews in London. It's just as well we got them when we did, because I think it was sold out. Certainly the auditorium was full last night, and I noticed when the Mercury's last brochure arrived that it wasn't included with the rest of the February productions.
It is a masterpiece, a quite howlingly funny farce. An amateur group of thesps, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, are putting on a clunking country house murder mystery. Unlike whichever Ayckbourn it is about a theatrical performance where we are shown the back stage lives of the actors, The Play That Goes Wrong deals entirely with the attempts of the cast and crew to stage the play, and their attempts, dogged, lackadaisical and hysterical by turn, to deal with misplaced props, missed cues, mangled dialogue, and disintegrating scenery, The conceit of the play within a play is even kept up in the Mercury's programme, containing a programme within a programme, which was easily the best four quid I have ever spent on a theatre programme.
I laughed an awful lot, which made me cough. There was a note on the back of the programme asking me not to smoke, take photographs, talk, rustle sweet papers or cough because it could spoil the performance for my fellow audience members, but it didn't matter that I was coughing because the rest of the audience were laughing so much as well. It was a triumph, and virtuosically done with some splendid physical acting, including the funniest corpse I have ever seen. The actors had to get it right, though. A Play That Goes Wrong that really goes wrong would be worse than unfunny.
I love comedy, and have great sympathy with whichever actor it was who grumpily observed that Oscars almost never went to comedies, when comedy was one of the hardest things to do well. But it would be pointless for me to big it up any more, since if you live around Colchester I fear you have missed your chance to see it at the Mercury unless you have already bought a ticket.