The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

UMW Theatre performs first show of the season, “The Play That Goes Wrong”

3 min read


Life Editor

In their first show of the semester, UMW Theatre is performing “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields and directed by Gregg Stull, the show acts as a double-suspension-of-reality in which the actors portray actors in a play called “The Murder at Haversham Manor.” 

The comedy follows a group of actors as they attempt to put on a performance of “The Murder at Haversham Manor” while everything seems to fall apart around them. Between the set pieces collapsing and the actors getting injured, the students turn a dramatic murder mystery and a doomed love affair into a hilarious tragedy.

When asked about the difficulty of performing in this show, Ethan Pearson, a fifth year computer science and theatre major who plays Chris Bean in the show, described balancing between playing Chris and inspector Carter, his character in “The Murder at Haversham Manor.

“Whatever Carter does is what Chris wants Carter to do in the moment, which is what I want Chris to do in the moment,” he said. “It’s sort of a weird thing to wrap your head around.”

This kind of play can be a whirlwind to perform and produce.

“I’d say my personal favorite part of the show is working with this cast,” said Seth Drenning, a junior theatre major portraying Max Bennett. “I think that’s kind of a basic answer, but this is the tightest cast I’ve been in.”

The show also features different skills that the actors had to work on, such as accent training and fight choreography. 

“Over the summer, we had to learn our dialects,” said junior theatre major Nathaniel Huff. “So, we had to learn not just a British accent, but we had to specifically learn a British Royal or Received Pronunciation accent from the 1920s. So that was basically all we did all summer, was annoy our families talking in this silly British accent.”

Drenning mentioned the importance of their training in stage fighting. 

“We had to go through a full two days of fight choreography with our fight choreographer, Casey,” he said. “And he gave us a little crash course on how to do each thing and then just let us go with it. So then, throughout the rehearsal process, we had to keep going back to practice that fight choreography.”

Drenning also addressed the training the actors went through with an intimacy coordinator.

“It’s not just ‘Okay, you kiss each other,’” he said. “You have to meet with just Gregg and the stage manager in a separate place and it’s just the four of you in the room, and there’s a whole process of making sure everyone’s comfortable with everything, which is definitely a good step forward. I don’t think that was really a thing in theatre, like in high school.”

As an audience member watching the show, the actors do a phenomenal job of transporting everyone into another world where the hilarious tragedies of the show are actually happening. To create such a seamless alternate world, the actors had to work together to face the challenge of portraying two plays at once. 

“I think the biggest challenge is just being doubly aware of what’s going on, since it’s a play within a play,” said Huff. “We were tasked with getting the people to follow along with both plots, so ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor,’ we really want to tell that story, but let ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ sort of seep through.”

When asked why people should see the show, Drenning said, “This show is for everybody. It doesn’t matter if you love theater or not, I know plenty of people that aren’t really on the theater train that loved the show because it’s like a fun slapstick comedy. You can’t help but love these characters and root for them the entire time.” 

Huff summed up what attracts audience members to the show.  

“For people who do enjoy theater, it’s a love letter to theater,” he said. “It’s about a group of actors and directors and producers who love theater so much that, while everything around them is crashing down and burning, quite literally, they’re still pushing on. They’re chugging through because they’re doing what they love.”

“The Play That Goes Wrong” will continue showing on Sept. 29–Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and on Oct. 2 at 2 p.m.