DramaFeaturedNorth WestReview

Peter Pan Goes Wrong- The Opera House, Manchester

Reviewer: David Cunningham

Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields

Director: Adam Meggido

Michael Frayn recognised the comic potential in theatrical mishaps with the sublime Noises Off. Frayn’s play, however, features a professional theatre company so there is a degree of seeing people get their just desserts- paying the cost for not doing their job properly. With Peter Pan Goes Wrong Mischief Theatre concentrate on an amateur company – the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society- with whom the audience is likely to have greater sympathy. After all they are working purely for love of the theatre and are trying their best. In fact, they are trying in every sense of the word.

Patrons arriving at The Opera House close to the curtain rising encounter a scene of barely contained chaos spilling off the stage. Technicians wander around looking under seats to locate missing hammers, a cast member suffering from stage fright makes a dash for freedom and an electrical extension lead is passed over the heads of the audience to resolve an onstage short-circuit. It certainly sets the mood for what follows.

The script by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields contains all the stock characters one might expect to find in an amateur theatre company. The antagonistic co-directors cannot agree whether Peter Pan is a pantomime or a classic tale to be treated with reverence. One cast member requires his lines to be communicated to him via headphones while another is there solely because his involvement secures a financial bequest for the company. Far from being the boy who never grew up the actor playing the title role seems to be the boy who cannot keep it in his pants.

The script is beautifully constructed with classic lines timed to arrive at the exact moment something goes wrong. ‘’To die will be an awfully big adventure’’ is spoken just as a technical accident sends a dummy Peter Pan plummeting from the sky to the ground.

There is a curious dignity to the characters all of whom are going the extra mile to make the show work even as it falls apart around them. Faced with an endless chorus of ‘’ He’s behind you!’’ catcalls from a very enthusiastic audience the hapless Phil Jarrow plaintively points out it isn’t even Christmas.

Director Adam Meggido sets an optimistic atmosphere appropriate for an amateur company that believes as long as they keep saying their lines and press on no-one in the audience will notice the disintegrating show. The most extreme example being an excruciating sequence with Matthew Howell desperately trying to get help from a follow cast member while stubbornly remaining in character and maintaining a ridiculous accent which renders his request incomprehensible.

The most memorable aspect of the show is, of course, the hair-raising stunts. Simon Scullion’s set, which revolves to move from a children’s nursery to Neverland and an unstable pirate ship is perhaps too sophisticated to be credible as an amateur construction, but it does allow for an hilarious climax in which the set self-destructs at high speed.

Many of the best stunts, however, follow the old showbiz approach of tagging on a final gag after a complex sequence. After helplessly spinning around upside down and flashing his bare backside to the audience Jake Burgum relaxes seeming safe only to be smacked in the face by a loose plank. The old ones are the best.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is gloriously old-school slapstick. Physical comedy is hard to get right but when this is achieved, like tonight, the results are hilarious.

Runs until 31st March 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Hilarious physical comedy

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The Reviews Hub - North West

The North West team is under the editorship of John McRoberts. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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