Based on its title, it may seem an unlikely choice for a theatre company to present a show called The Play That Goes Wrong. For Neptune Theatre’s artistic director Jeremy Webb, though, it is all part of his grand plan for the professional theatre company’s 2023-2024 season.
… we’ve upped the comedy content this season – Jeremy Webb
“What we heard most over the last three years as we emerge from the pandemic is that people want to come to the theatre and laugh, and so we’ve upped the comedy content this season,” he says.
“With this play and then overlapping with Murder for Two, which is another incredibly fun and silly comedy, we’re really trying to bring the laughs back to Halifax this fall as well as drama throughout the season,” he continues.
With comedy a priority for Webb this season, it’s not difficult to see why Webb would choose a play billed as “a hilarious hybrid of Monty Python and Sherlock Holmes.”
“It’s such an outlandish comedy where this ragtag group of actors from a university drama society are putting on a murder mystery,” explains Webb. “Through no fault of their own, though, because they’re not bad actors, everything that can go wrong in one performance goes wrong.”
Webb first saw The Play That Goes Wrong in 2017 during a trip to New York while gathering potential play ideas as Neptune’s newly appointed artistic director. So invested in seeing the show, Webb skipped an opportunity to see a final weekend performance of Bette Midler in the revival of Hello Dolly!
“I know I made right decision,” he says. “I went to see The Play That Goes Wrong knowing that maybe one day I would get to direct it, and as I sat there the audience around me was going nuts.”
Joining the ten-member cast is film and television actor Jonathan Torrens, who plays Chris Bean, the director and head of the drama society that is putting on the play with the play.
“The characters that I’m usually drawn to live at the intersection of underqualified and overconfident, and Chris definitely lives at that intersection,” says Torrens. “The thing that keeps resonating with me is this is not a play being done badly but a play that goes wrong. And when it goes wrong, it hurts because they are trying to do their very best, and it’s the choices they make to pick up the pieces when the wheels come off the bus that creates comedic quicksand.”
Best known for his work on such shows as Street Cents, Jonovision, The Trailer Park Boys and Letterkenny, this will mark Torrens’s first time on stage since attending the now-demolished St. Pat’s High School in Halifax over thirty years ago. The production will fulfill one of his bucket list items.
“I’ve been pretty comfortable in my little universe for the last several years and was curious to see which skills are transferable,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what the setting is because a joke is a joke, but I did find out that a lot more memorizing happens in a play.”
In addition to a certain comfort level in the comedy, Torrens also found himself drawn to the ensemble nature of The Play That Goes Wrong, which he says is very much in his comfort zone.
The world needs more silly, and this play, from the first nanosecond after the lights come up, is pure silliness. – Jonathon Torrens
“I love that in this show, everyone gets a chance to get some jokes off, and everyone gets a chance to show off a little bit,” he says. “I love being just the tiniest cog in this wheel of madness.”
That “wheel” extends beyond the stage as The Play That Goes Wrong is also a very technical show, with the props and set departments charged with making the bedlam look seamless.
“We’ve got such a fantastic team of props builders, construction, designers, and creative people who are working to make this behemoth of a set, which is very much a character in the show, work for us,” says Webb. “The idea here is to plan meticulously for the mistakes to make them look like mistakes instead of bits, gags, and jokes. And it is the character’s reaction to what’s going on wrong around them that brings the comedy because we love to see people suffer as an audience.”
But while audiences may be attracted to the chaos happening on stage, for Torrens, it is the play’s unabashed silliness that will ultimately win the night.
“The world needs more silly, and this play, from the first nanosecond after the lights come up, is pure silliness,” he says.
The Play That Goes runs at Neptune Theatre’s Fountain Hall from September 26 through October 22. Visit neptunetheatre.com for tickets and information.