A set that falls down, countless missed cues, and an accident-prone cast. You would be forgiven for thinking that these calamities were merely symptomatic of staging a press night on Friday 13, whereas in fact they are actually intended hiccups in the aptly-named play Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Those that are familiar with Mischief Theatre’s previous work will know that any production staged by their fictional amateur dramatic club, Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, tends to be littered with disastrous mishaps. For this year’s production they have set their sights on a retelling of the J.M Barrie classic Peter Pan, but as the title of this hilarious show suggests, anything that could possibly go wrong does.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is the epitome of a well-crafted farce: it feels like they’ve combined comedic elements from shows like One Man Two Guvnors, Fawlty Towers and a fair few Monty Python sketches, resulting in an accomplished piece of theatre that has the entire audience in hysterics throughout. Much of the humour relies on visual, slapstick-inspired gags, for instance a rotund Robert (Henry Lewis) repeatedly getting stuck in various parts of the set. I lost count of the number of times that Lewis and the rest of this young cast are hit on the head with various props and collapsing scenery. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times these tropes were used, they still continue to be funny every time they occur. This is largely thanks to the stellar cast’s exaggerated and pained reactions, and also their impeccable comedic timing. I can’t remember the last time I saw a piece of theatre where the audience’s laughter provided an almost constant soundtrack to the production.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is in many ways a homage to the feeling of schadenfreude, playing on the idea that an audience will often find an unintended mishap on stage funnier than any of the scripted jokes. The true brilliance of this piece comes from the fact that everything that went ‘wrong’ comes across as completely believable. Thanks to Martin Thomas’s clever set design, when pandemonium occurs it never looks staged. The play also draws many of its laughs from the idea that Cornley Polytechnic is a low budget community theatre group – or, more precisely, it parodies the type of characters that take part in amateur dramatics. For example Chris (Henry Shields), the group’s director, is the definition of an overacting theatre ‘luvvie’, while Sandra’s (Charlie Russell) interpretation of Wendy is surly and uncharacteristically streetwise. Personally, I think that the stand-out performance of the evening is Dave Hearn’s Max, a grinning simpleton who has only been cast as the crocodile because his father is lending Cornley Polytechnic a motor to power their rotating stage. I’m sure it will come as no great surprise to hear that during the battle scene on Captain Hook’s pirate ship, the rotating stage goes out of control and the cursed cast are trapped as they unable to stop it from moving.
Mischief Theatre is a talented young company and their similarly titled The Play That Goes Wrong has recently been nominated for Best New Comedy as part of the WhatsOnStage awards – in my opinion, deservedly so. They seem to have found a formula that works extremely well, and I am keen to see which play they will successfully dismantle and transform into a farce next. The phrase ‘fun for all the family’ is bandied about and misused all too often: however, I can’t think of a more fitting description for Peter Pan Goes Wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as it provides a refreshing alternative to a conventional Christmas show. I would be utterly astounded if this play doesn’t cause you and your clan to erupt into fits of hysterics.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is playing at the The Pleasance until 5 January. For tickets and more information, please visit the Pleasance Theatre website.