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Review: The Play That Goes Wrong at Liverpool Empire ****1/2

When the world around you is going to hell in a handcart, you can laugh, or you can cry.

So thank heavens for the ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ and its deadly earnest – and deliciously disastrous – whodunit, The Murder at Haversham Manor.

The Play That Goes Wrong, for this it is, rightly won plaudits in the West End and has been packing them in on Broadway. It’s now been licensed for productions from Iceland to India, and Belgium to Brazil, and makes its first visit to Liverpool this week.

And yes, Mischief Theatre’s glorious comedy catastrophe has been worth the wait.

The drama society’s most ambitious production yet opens with a hunt for a missing hound, an appeal for a missing CD, and an apologetic Shakespeare-style prologue by its director (Jake Curran) who returns as the inspector called in when the owner of the eponymous Haversham Manor is found dead on the night of his engagement.

Whodunit? The brother? The fiancée? The butler? Who honestly cares when the laugh rate comes at a rapid rattle in an evening of finely-honed chaos.

Disappearing props, reluctant paramours, perilous escutcheons, cat fights, sword fights, mis-pronunciations, hammy overacting, stilted under-acting, mugging to the audience and desperate ad libbing ensue as the hapless ‘amateur’ thesps and their tech crew try their best to keep the story on track in the face of mounting odds.

The cast (including LIPA graduate Louisa Sexton) prove crack team of physical comedians, while an extra character is Nigel Hook’s ingenious set with its clever construction and complicated split-second changes which culminate in a finale Buster Keaton would applaud.

It's a set that looks a little lost in the vast expanse of the Empire’s own stage, and the sound could do with a boost – some dialogue gets swallowed up by the theatre’s cavernous auditorium and at other times swamped by waves of laughter.

But that doesn’t change the fact that The Play That Goes Wrong is a farce and furious, frenetically funny night out.

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