Review: So Much Wrong with The Play That Goes Wrong

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

I attended The Play That Goes Wrong on a friend’s recommendation. I will never forgive him.

The touring production runs at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., through December 16, and was well-received by the audience on opening night. I’m genuinely glad some folks find fun in this Mischief Theatre production. I found it dreadful.

The premise is nothing new, a recurring theme throughout the evening. The faux Cornley University Drama Society, an “hilarious” band of misfits, scenery chewers and stage hogs, stages a misbegotten production of The Murder at Haversham Manor. The conceit is a recycled iteration of Waiting for Guffman, to name one. And The Coarse Acting Show, to name two.

Starting at the top, the two stage managers are pulled into the mayhem. The eight actors are energetic and athletic, as they must be to race across such hackneyed material. There is no comedic rule of threes here; if the writers find something funny, they repeat it over and over. And over. Endless spit takes, mispronunciations, bad faux snow, door schtick and falling set pieces, for which the actors mysteriously feel the need to hold up on the walls, instead of simply setting them down as real actors would do if something went amiss.

The two women in the cast were cold-cocked with such frequency it felt like Roger Ailes’ office. It was painful to watch, like an episode of Home Improvement, which recycles the same handful of lame bits: Tim Allen grunting like an ape and reciting malapropisms while “accidentally” blowing something up. Thankfully, the play finally ends (while we’re stuck with Tool Time in perpetuity via syndication).

The production runs on Broadway through January, and is now in its fourth year in London. My plus-one agreed that the two-hour show was a West End cash grab. This the first big budget show he’s seen since moving to Chicago. I’m embarrassed. In the comedy capital, we can do better.

The Play That Goes Wrong runs at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., through December 16.  Tickets are $25-98.

Karin McKie
Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.


  1. I totally believe there could be plants. I completely agree that’s it’s just not funny. I love a good laugh and am a Monty Python fan but this is painful. And yet, people are laughing. I cannot share in their joy. The only reason I am not leaving now (intermission) is that I received the ticket as a gift and would feel guilty.

  2. Karin, your review is right on the money. Some of the performances weren’t bad and the actors worked HARD. It’s a very physical show and sometimes uncomfortable to watch. I believe that people were hired to be in the audience and laugh hysterically and howl to encourage everyone else to think the show was outrageously funny. There was a group of young women sitting in front of us that alluded to it. No, I’m not kidding. We looked at each other during the show and said “those people are nuts-this isn’t that funny”. It actually worked against the show. There were some chuckle-worthy moments, but in the end, I resented the attempt at being manipulated. And the cast was gritting their teeth to get through every scene. Don’t tell me it’s funny, make me laugh.

  3. Thank you! I”m still completely befuddled at how much the audience was hysterically laughing at this dreck! My wife and I seriously thought something was the matter with us. I am a huge Python fan and this is so far from that level it’s ridiculous. This was show #5 of our current B’way in Chicago subscription and we left at intermission.

  4. I thought it was a wonderfully entertaining play. Yes there was a total absence of gravitas – but who cares? The actors were fantastic, the timing superb, the gags engaging. I find your review condescending to a huge audience who loved the play and went home happy. I trust an audience. I love serious theater and I still enjoy being entertained in such a bombastic, cognition free manner. Given today’s headlines a little mindless entertainment is welcome.

    As for the premise not being new, news alert: if an ancient Greek or Shakespeare isn’t on the title page, every play premise is derivative.

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