Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer &Henry Shields
Director: Adam Meggido
Reviewer: Claire Going
If there’s one thing that people love to see during alive theatre performance, it’s mistakes. So, to go and see a production full of them is no doubt going to turn frowns upside-down.
Following on from the huge success of The Play that Goes Wrong, Mischief Theatre have devised another hilarious production where everything that can wrong, does. The premise is simple – Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is a theatrically challenged and accident prone company, whose earlier forays onto the stage have been nonetheless disastrous. They candidly recall their re-working of Rapunzel, due to a badly timed haircut; and a fated production of Oliver in which Mr Bumble took a tumble, crushing to death one of the more particularly frail orphans.
In Peter Pan, however, the company at least manages to keep everyone alive, though it seems the paramedics are run off their feet. The laughs begin before the curtain opens, as members of the cast and crew seem to be making last minute preparations, including taping off four seats and looking up with worried expressions. Thankfully, I had already educated my nine-year-old on the nature of farce, but he checked out the ceiling all the same.
Many of the onstage disasters are easily predictable, but under Adam Meggido’s superb direction, there are still countless surprises along the way. Not the least of these was the riotously funny way in which Wendy and her brothers take flight, which raises an audible chuckle even as I write this.
Wendy, played by Cornley’s Sandra Wilkinson, played by Leonie Hill (though the play within the play idea sounds much more confusing than it is), employs a truly remarkable acting style that is a mixture of interpretative dance and melodrama. Annie Twilloil (Naomi Sheldon) has an equally comical presence on stage, playing multiple rôles, and her hilariously hasty costume changes provide enough laughs for one evening all by themselves.
The biggest and most uncontrollable belly laughs come, however, when Hook (Laurence Pears) comes out of character to tell the audience to stop laughing. There is nothing that makes one laugh more than being screeched at to stop laughing by a man whose wig keeps falling off. And that’s not the only thing that falls off. There are more falls here than Charlie Chaplin on ice, and they are just as funny. Special mention, though, should go to Ella Walhstrom’s sound design, which adds gaffaws to the giggles, and the ‘real’ stage manager Andrew Owen, who makes all the disasters run so smoothly.
What is brilliant about this production is the way in which the cast carry on regardless. Even after lines are forgotten, actors are knocked unconscious and the set is sent spinning out of control, the am-dram stalwarts still make it to the final curtain call, although a little worse for wear.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are moments of poignancy in the production too. Matt Cavendish, as Max, draws true sympathy with his puppy-dog expressions, and his crocodile is more of an adorable soft toy than Hook’s usual bloodthirsty nemesis.
Despite the director’s insistence that it is not a pantomime but a “traditional Christmas vignette” (produced in May due to a “double booking”), the audience still can’t help but interact in true panto style with roars of “he’s behind you!” and suchlike. But Mischief have not only managed to prove that panto is not just for Christmas, Peter Pan Goes Wrong masterfully transcends the festive season to bring a spirit of joy to even the most grumpy of Scrooges.
Photo: Alastair Muir | Runs until: 30th May and on tour