The Goes Wrong Show: why not laugh as the wheels come off?

Give your adrenal glands the month off and enjoy some good old-fashioned slapstick instead. The Goes Wrong Show is proper art, promises Lucy Sweet

Although this is traditionally the time of year for resolutions and decluttering, 2020 already feels like hitching a ride on a marauding clown car that’s on fire and heading towards a cliff. So why not laugh as the wheels (and doors, and roof) come off? With uncharacteristic perfect timing The Goes Wrong Show is here to soothe our troubled brows. It’s the ideal accompaniment to our everyday diet of global and existential chaos, in that everything goes to shit with alarming regularity. The fundamental difference is that it’s actually funny. 

This is a spin-off from the West End hit The Play That Goes Wrong, by the fictional and incompetent Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society – a seamlessly choreographed theatrical disaster zone that could make a corpse, well…corpse. If there was a floorboard to fall through, a door that didn’t open or a line to stumble embarrassingly over, this group of largely unknown yet fiendishly talented actors risked their lives to pull it off in the most creative (and painful) way possible. Since 2016, there have been several festive TV productions; Peter Pan Goes Wrong (the main character gets trapped in a window), A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong (Derek Jacobi losing his dignity) and 2019’s The Spirit of Christmas, which made me almost drop my Baileys in a fit of hysteria when a snowman got caught in a mangle and an elf suffocated behind a fireplace.

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So it was only a matter of time before a full series beckoned, with the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society back at their alma mater, performing six terrible half-hour plays to a hapless studio audience. The first one is called The Pilot (Not the Pilot), which as the title suggests is about a pilot, not to be confused with a TV pilot – which it is, constantly. This stilted World War 2 drama is doomed from the outset thanks to the main character’s fake amputated leg that keeps springing out of its straps, a door with a trompe l’oeil staircase that backfires uncomfortably and an actor who is supposed to be from the French resistance but doesn’t know any French. (At one point, she stands there looking blank, before seductively breathing the words “petit filous” into the pilot’s ear).   

OK, we’re not talking highbrow here. If you like that kind of thing, there are plenty of boring, bloated, Oscar-worthy films on right now at your local multiplex. However, there’s a genuine art to this kind of breathless slapstick. This is physical theatre of the most accomplished and daring kind, with clever devices everywhere you dare to look. 

It also works as a glorious summer holiday for your brain. Seriously, if you’ve ever laughed at the Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies, you need this in your life. Treat your inner 10-year-old to a laugh. In fact, you never know – watching this might just become a vital coping strategy for the next 12 months.  

The Goes Wrong Show is on Fridays on BBC One at 8.30pm and on BBC iPlayer