Being bad takes a lot of talent and practice — at least when you’re trying to create a knockabout farce about a play gone horribly wrong. It’s an alchemy of turning chaos into crowd-pleasing broad comedy.
You may think I’m referring to “Noises Off,” Michael Frayn’s frequently revived farce about a third-rate English acting troupe putting on a third-rate sex romp, which is full of physical activity that must be staged with the precision of ballet.
An unofficial sequel to “Noises Off” has arrived in the form of “The Play That Goes Wrong,” which observes the clueless attempt of the “Cornley University Drama Society” to put on a melodramatic 1920s murder mystery. It comes to Broadway following a hit debut in London, with the original English cast (all making their Broadway debuts) in tow. The script is credited to three of the actors.
As in “Noises Off,” there is a fake playbill within the real playbill that contains bios for the actors who are putting on the show within the show.
Whereas “Noises Off” contains some variation (with scenes set at dress rehearsal, backstage and a performance), “The Play That Goes Wrong” is a nonstop, intensifying rush in which the murder mystery is performed from beginning to end.
It is strangely inspiring how this inept but well-meaning troupe keeps plowing through the script despite forgotten lines, missed cues, lost props, head injuries, an unconscious leading lady, a dead body that won’t stop moving, an upper level that is falling apart, countless other technical malfunctions and so on. As directed by Mark Bell, all of these obstacles are meticulously staged.
The eight performers have individual personalities but come together to form a tight ensemble well-disciplined in the art of being hilariously bad.