24 December 2019 02:52
The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are putting on a Christmas show, but clearly something's gone very wrong. Costumes are missing, Santa's half-cut and the set's falling down, not to mention the string of sausages in the Christmas tree. Well, with a lot of hard work and ingenuity – because rather than an am-dram disaster, The Goes Wrong Show (which kicks off this week with a Christmas special) is actually the laugh-out-loud new project from the Mischief Theatre company, a collection of writers and actors who shot to the mainstream on the stage with The Play That Goes Wrong in 2012 (and who you can learn more about here). Telling the tale of a talentless acting troupe whose Mouse Trap-style murder mystery play falls into a shambles with missing props, forgotten lines and a collapsing set, The Play That Goes Wrong became a smash hit. Soon it was inspiring spin-offs, seasonal specials on the West End and (more recently) two TV specials, one based on their stage show Peter Pan Goes Wrong and another, A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong, written specially for the BBC.
Now, they've got a full six-part series kicking off with a festive special called The Spirit of Christmas – and while I still wasn't sure whether the thrill of watching the usual theatrical disasters unfold would translate to screen (albeit with a live studio audience), I was happy to be proven wrong. While I've enjoyed all the Mischief Theatre plays and specials I've seen, the in-universe subplots involving the fictional actors, their relationships and feuds tend to be the weakest aspect for me, so I was glad when The Spirit of Christmas quickly got to what this team does best – unleashing utter mayhem. Props are mixed up and malfunction, costumes are torn away by the scenery, cues are missed and lines are lost, and as the episode continues it all builds to a brilliant, hilarious finish. Sure, the slapstick and mistakes land a little less naturally on TV than they would live on stage, but I was continually impressed by the ingenuity, physical comedy and performances on display. From a half-hour BBC comedy, what more can you ask for than that?
The CPDS is a fictional troupe, a creation of the Mischief Theatre Company, the people behind the West End and Broadway hit The Play That Goes Wrong, as well as Peter Pan Goes Wrong, which was adapted for television and followed by A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong in 2017. Now Mischief Theatre are back with a six-part series, The Goes Wrong Show (BBC One), beginning with this Yuletide effort, which doesn't look as if it would be very good if everything went to plan. The plot, insofar as there is one, is negligible: it's Christmas Eve and a little girl is sad because her parents, beset by holiday stress, are fighting. In desperation, she writes to Father Christmas for help. The props have been placed in all the wrong boxes, forcing the hapless actors to cook the Christmas decorations and trim the tree with sausage links.
Everyone on stage is playing two parts: the character and the desperate actor behind his or her eyes. It's one thing for a bit of set to topple over, quite another for a large prop – in this case a "toy machine" – to catch and basically eat a fully grown actor in a snowman costume, while he attempts to sing a song. Everybody needs a bit of festive stupidity at this time of year – pratfalls, broad humour, Christmas cracker wit – but too much of it can leave you feeling a bit bad about yourself. The Goes Wrong Show would, I think, wring laughs from just about anyone, young or old, sober or not so much. Best of all, this first instalment – the series continues in the new year – has a little chip of ice in its heart. When was the last time you really, running-to-the-loo laughed at a comedy on the BBC? The Goes Wrong Show (yes, it's a show that goes wrong) also has a foolish ensemble cast with lashings of slapstick and innuendo, but on the cusp on a new decade the formula is more fossilised than old-fashioned. You might have heard of The Play That Goes Wrong, which arrived in the West End in 2014. Nevertheless, the Mischief Theatre Company had hit on a nice little earner. The premise, as explained by the show's director Chris Bean (no doubt inspired by a "Mister" of the same name), is that his am-dram group, from somewhere called Cornley (geddit?), is putting on a play in front of a live studio audience. We suspect we are about to watch things go wrong on purpose. A miserable member of the company is playing himself in a Father Christmas costume and is handing out gifts to children. A girl called Bella (played by an adult) makes an appeal to Santa to save her Christmas after her parents have a barney over crackers and dad walks out. Santa arrives with two elves, Bella's snowman comes to life, a toy machine is magicked into the living room — and dad returns home. Of course none of this occurs without disaster: the crackers explode, Santa destroys the chimney, an elf gets stuck up it and the snowman's costume is shredded when it is sucked into the toy machine. A box of decorations is mixed up with another one of food, meaning the glass baubles are chopped up, while a string of sausages ends up on the tree; Bella is quite violently hit in the face by Santa's sack; and the snowman rips a present to shreds with his stick arms. The Mischief Theatre Company seems to be doing quite well enough cornering the London day-tripper market. The Goes Wrong Show: The Spirit of Christmas is on BBC One at 7.30pm on December 23 With two shows running in London and now this TV series, which kicks off with a festive instalment tonight, the Mischief Theatre Company behind the Goes Wrong franchise have proved the enduring success of slapstick. The set-up of this BBC One family comedy is that the amateurs at the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are presenting a live show to the nation every week, despite their staggering levels of ineptitude. Adopting a 'show-must-go-on' spirit, each of Cornley's thespians plough through the script, despite missing props or absent cues, even thought they know they're convincing nobody. After a bit of a flat opening skit, this episode gets into a proper story, introducing us to a down-at-heart little girl called Belle (the clearly adult Bryony Corrigan), who's lost the spirit of Christmas because her parents are always fighting. Could Santa, his elves, and a magical snowman help her find it again? Crackers explode, props end up in the wrong place and actors fail the basic requirement of their craft and DO walk into the furniture. Almost inevitably Santa – the larger-than-life, show-stealing Henry Lewis – has too much to drink, and starts getting maudlin about the love who left him and belligerent about the nonsensical play and his colleagues' overacting before eventually turning his bitterness on the audience. If you are (like us) a fan of both The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong, then you'll be glad to know that a six-part series called The Goes Wrong Show begins tonight (December 23). Speaking to Digital Spy and other outlets, Team Mischief's Charlie Russell and David Hearn stated that one Office star inspires a lot of their comedy. Shop Now Magic Goes Wrong tickets (various dates) "Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are hysterically funny, but what makes them even funnier is that look from Martin Freeman which tells you, 'Yeah, you're right. I just meant like, what's quite nice about playing the straight man sometimes, you are often the audience's way into the joke. The Goes Wrong Show's Christmas special, The Spirit of Christmas, airs on Monday, December 23 at 7.30pm on BBC One.