For most actors, the ultimate onstage fear might entail a flubbed line or a malfunctioning prop. But in the recent Broadway hit The Play That Goes Wrong, every actor’s nightmare becomes audiences’ dream comedy, when everything that could possibly go wrong does.
Now all that comic chaos has hit the road, and the show comes stumbling, crashing, and face-planting itself into the Hobby Center.
To prepare for the mayhem, CultureMap caught up with Ned Noyes, who starred in the Broadway production before joining the tour. Noyes’ acting prowess has landed him roles on and off Broadway as well as in television and film, but he says nothing prepared him for “the sheer physical heights” the show requires.
A play within a play
The actually play going wrong referenced in the title is The Murder at Haversham Manor, a drawing room mystery in Agatha Christie tradition put on by the Cornley University Drama Society.
It’s opening night with neither the actors nor set quite ready, but somehow, with British stiff upper lip spirit, they’re going on anyway after landing the Hobby Center for their world premiere. The Play That Goes Wrong takes the play-within-a-play and good actors playing bad actors premise to its extreme, with the audience even receiving a Playbill within a Playbill.
Noyes plays Max Bennett a “green” actor, as he charitably describes, who buys his way into the plum role of Cecil Haversham in mystery, but Max’s onstage enthusiasm will likely win over the audience early.
“He’s never been in a play before, so he’s not aware that there are rules,”Noyes explains. “He’s unaware that he’s behaving inappropriately when he acknowledges the audience. He makes friends with them early on and can’t help checking in with them all the time.”
The Play That Goes Wrong asks many of its cast to essentially play two parts at once, an actor in the midst of a play careening out of control and a murder mystery character within Haversham Manor.
“It’s a wonderful challenge because so much of what we’re asked to is to play both of those things at once. I’m playing Max and also committing to try to play the murder mystery. There’s lots of layers happening all the time,” says Noyes, noting that the audience sees about 85% of the murder mystery character. “Then we see the person underneath peeking through at certain moments. It’s fun to play with those dials at every performance.”
The setting as a character
While the murder plot thickens, the surprising and true villain of the piece reveals itself fairly quickly.
“The set is the ninth character in the show,” says Noyes, of Nigel Hook’s Tony Award winning scenic design that becomes “the central antagonist of the play.”
And out of the chaos of a set that seems out to get them, comedy ensues. But with a cast so dependent on everything going wrong at the exact right moment, Noyes says in this wrong is right comic equation, when a prop or piece of the set doesn’t act up, that’s their nightmare.
“In addition to it making all of our lives miserable in The Play That Goes Wrong, we often happen to be ready for anything as actors who are performing because it doesn’t always function the way we’re expecting it to," he says. "It definitely keeps us on our toes. I’ve never experienced a show that was so dependent on the its set behaving and misbehaving nightly.”
Noyes says when all else fails, they go back to the whodunnit mystery, which does have a solution, though the audience likely caught up in the comedy might never catch it.
“If something doesn’t function the way we’re expecting it to we at least have the framework of the Murder at Hamershan Manor," he says. "It’s almost as if we won. We got through a sequence without anything going wrong. So for us the play went right for a little bit until the next thing goes wrong six seconds later.”
A comedy for all
Presenting a play among its full lineup of musicals isn’t unheard of for the Mischer Neurosciences Broadway at the Hobby Center season, but it is somewhat rare. A non-musical, comedy like The Play That Goes Wrong is rarer still. Noyes notes that touring Broadway plays tend to be dramatic Tony Award winners.
“This play is a massive hit. It didn’t win Best Play but it’s got legs enough to tour, which is unique," he says. "It appeals to so many different people. We have people who bring both their children and their parents to the show, and everyone is laughing at the same jokes.”
But while the show is a big, physical comedy, Noyes believes the laughs have deeper elements.
“For a lot of people this is just pure joy entertainment, but I think for people who have a connection to theater it has a deeper resonance for them," he says. "It can be seen as about what it means to be an artist or even just a human being faced with so many things gone wrong, how do you survive, how do you finish.”
The Play That Goes Wrong runs March 26-31 at the Hobby Center.