Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer & Henry Shields
Director: Adam Meggido
Cornley Polytechnic return to Edinburgh this week to have another valiant bash of showcasing their production of Peter Pan. This time, we deeply hope for a smooth-run devoid of injury, mayhem and lawsuits.
Who are we kidding? True to their name, Mischief Theatre’s Peter Pan goes Wrong (presented by Kenny Wax Ltd & Stage Presence Ltd) is a shamble of a production, which showcases the vulnerability in trusting amateurs with professional stages – and the crowd couldn’t love them more.
For those unfamiliar, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, and the repertoire of Mischief Theatre has at its core pure unbridled chaos. Thriving on gasps, the team set-out to commit the cardinal sins of theatre, one after the other. What follows is a (less than) traditional re-telling of Peter Pan, under the guise of Cornley Polytechnic’s annual Christmas show.
Endlessly inventive, nothing of Simon Scullion’s stage design can be trusted, not even the Festival Theatre’s curtain itself. From elaborate detail flaws to more substantial crashes and devastation, Peter Pan Goes Wrong balances visual humour with the performer’s capabilities to tie these all together. What ends up being funnier than the stage failing, is how the performers react – particularly Oliver Senton’s booming escapades as he finds himself continually attempting to sort problems as co-assistant director.
Intimidating, bountiful in comedic talent, Senton’s presence serves to unnerve those who share the stage, especially Tom Babbage’s Max the dedicated young man who so desperately wants to claim the role of Peter Pan. An audience favourite Babbage’s go-between with the crowd extends the pantomime feel well past the Christmas period. It’s a warming role, which offsets the humour with a sense of sincerity.
What rallies us behind a hero more than a loathsome villain? Well, there’s few finer than Captain Hook, illustrated by George Haynes, who struggles with being the principal director of the crumbling show. Enthusiasm overflows, it’s a miracle Haynes has hair left given how much must be torn out in frustration, his characterisation of the irate director captured exceedingly well. The real villain, our boastful Peter Pan found in James Marlowe, an egotistical Casanova who seeks to sprinkle Wendy with more than pixie dust. Playing the part, his aerial tricks are to be commended for their weight – causing the audience to feel every thud against the backdrops, though on occasion health and safety causes one or two movements to slow significantly, losing momentum.
This leads to an irritating flaw in the productions design, these bold and big effects overshadow the more modest ones, when revolving stages with multiple sets, explosions and fly-riggings are in play, some of the mid-level effects feel diminished. While small gags, such as lights which refuse to turn off, have charm to fall back on. Timing likewise suffers, though this is down to the performer’s actual sense of safety. Momentum can slow, and preparations for a fall, a crash or slap are highlighted to the audience too clearly, giving up the gag.
Masters of hiding this are Patrick Warner’s narrator and Phoebe Ellabani as a plethora of quick-change characters. Both are a stand-out, for what may arguably be minimal parts to play in the grand scheme. Warner’s escalating panic at just how he may be harmed next compliments Ellabani’s dedication to snap costume changes. Prime examples of the brilliance of sleight-of-hand and misdirection which director Adam Meggido demonstrates a capacity for.
Admit it, you’re a sadist. We thrive on the schadenfreude of others tripping up and failing and Peter Pan Goes Wrong capitalises on this in droves. More so, there’s a sense of community with the cast, to have a level of trust and respect which extends beyond the on-stage talent and offer rousing applause and acknowledgement for the stage team who keep tabs on the mayhem, ensuring the destruction runs smoothly.
Runs until 16 February 2020 then tours | Image: Alistair Muir