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Upending a Whodunit

"The Play that Goes Wrong" starts going for laughs before the first line is even delivered in this spoof of the theatricalized murder mystery.

Gina Conroy
January 28, 2019

While there’s nothing funny about a disastrous opening night at a murder mystery theater, that’s exactly what makes Broadway and London’s award-winning comedy The Play that Goes Wrong a hilarious success. Described as a mashup of a Sherlock Holmes investigation and Monty Python production, this “play within a play” takes audiences on a side-splitting journey where mishaps occur around every corner including a corpse who won’t stay dead and clumsy actors who take “breaking a leg” and “bringing down the house” literally.

“It’s every stage manager’s worse nightmare,” says Angela Grovey who plays Annie, the stage manager, on opening night at The Murder at Haversham Manor. Grovey admits this is the funniest show she’s ever seen. “When I walked out of the theater after seeing the show for the first time, my abs hurt from laughing for two-and-a-half hours.” The brilliant writing and the comedy genius is one reason Grovey decided to stretch herself in the comedic role.

And with a cast not afraid to throw themselves into the role, literally, the most challenging part sometimes as an actor is keeping a straight face. 

“Unexpected things happen. We have to take them in, acknowledge them, and keep going,” says Grovey. “I’d be lying if I said I haven’t laughed onstage.” In fact, she admits to laughing onstage every couple of days, but the cast still is professional. “We can’t afford to break completely, but some things are very funny.

“If you like comedy, it’s for you. If you like to laugh and have a good time, it’s for you. If you like mysteries, it’s for you.”

Angela Grovey (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
Angela Grovey (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

The Play That Goes Wrong was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, who met while studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) and subsequently formed the Mischief Theatre Company. The production began life as a one-act play at the Old Red Lion pub theater in London in 2013. Over the next year, it transferred to a bigger studio theater, went to the Edinburgh Festival, toured the United Kingdom and arrived in the West End in 2014 where it won an Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. Along the way, the show was expanded into a two-act comedy.

Amid all the zaniness of the play within the play, some people might miss the mystery elements, but if you look closely they’re there.

“If you follow along, the murder mystery still happens,” says Grovey. “There are definitely people by the end of the show you can actually hear react to the ‘whodunit’ as the murder mystery is finally unveiled.”

However, through all the laughter, mystery, mayhem, and fun, one thing shines through: The actors pour their heart into their production. 

“What I love about this play is that you actually see a group of artists passionate about what they’re doing, willing to do whatever it takes for the show to go on,” says Grovey who is no stranger to the phrase “the show must go on,” having performed in television, film, and on Broadway as well as musical comedies. The Play that Goes Wrong is her first professional comedic play. “They’re willing to challenge themselves and do ridiculous things just to make sure that the play still happens.” 

It’s not surprising why Grovey was drawn to this play considering the “show must go on” theme that has permeated her life. “In high school while performing in Peter Pan with Cathy Rigby, I ran out for a curtain call, and I fell onstage,” she recalls. Grovey thought she might have ruined the show. “But I got up, continued my staging, and the audience still clapped.” At that moment, she learned that art imitates life, and no matter what the show must go on.

“I think that the beauty of art is that it’s never perfect or finished. It’s always growing and up for interpretation, and because of that it’s a beautiful human experience,” says Grovey. “Our job is to breathe real life into characters. That’s the beauty of what artists get to do, and the takeaway doesn’t always have to be the same for everyone.”

The Play that Goes Wrong
Tulsa Performing Arts Center | Tulsa
Feb. 26-28: 7:30 p.m.
March 1: 8 p.m.
March 2: 2 p.m., 8 p.m.
March 3: 1 p.m., 6:30 p.m.

April 2020 Cover