Sunday, 22 December 2013

Theatre review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Earlier this year I loved The Play That Goes Wrong, but wasn't sure about the title, thinking it seemed a bit blunt and didn't reflect how inventive the farce contained within was. But that title may have turned out to be a stroke of genius that's allowed Mischief Theatre to spin it off into a franchise: Theatregoers in Reading have been seeing what happens when The Nativity Play Goes Wrong, and here in London the company have moved to the Pleasance Islington's main stage, where Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Once again we're guests of the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, who are hoping that their production of Peter Pan by "Jaime Barry" will be more successful than their previous efforts. Or at least result in fewer fatalities. But there's little hope of that with Chris (Henry Shields) still in charge, as well as Playing Mr Darling and Hook. And just in case enough didn't go wrong last time, this time they've got a revolve.

If anything's changed for Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer's new play, it's the ambition, which has spun the non-stop catastrophe of The Play That Goes Wrong out into a longer show, that as well as that ominous revolving stage also features multiple sets and flying, all bringing new opportunities for nasty accidents.

The other way they've expanded their horizons is in bringing to the stage more of the backstage politics of the Society, starting as Chris introduces the show, with a little "help" from assistant director Robert (Lewis,) who seems to be halfway through mounting a coup. But the play really resolves itself around Max (Dave Hearn,) who wanted to be cast as Peter Pan so he could get to kiss Sandra (Charlie Russell) as Wendy. Instead he's been stuck in the multiple roles of John, Mermaid #2 and the Crocodile, and has to just watch as the actor who did land Peter, Greg Tannahill's Jonathan, gets off with Sandra behind the scenes. Except, thanks to the malfunctioning revolve, "behind the scenes" often becomes centre stage.

If slightly too long and not quite as breathlessly funny as its predecessor, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is still a huge recommendation from me, and judging by the many ages represented in the audience all cracking up, a perfect family show. Highlights include a running gag where the overweight Robert gets stuck in various parts of the set, grumpy stage manager Trevor (Rob Falconer) ending up in the flying harness, and a further problem with the wire-work that causes a pretty major wardrobe malfunction. The most memorable moment, though, will probably be the one that establishes the lengths the company will go to to get a laugh. It involves the children's bunk bed, and is another instance where I admired the comic timing of Martin Thomas' set as much as that of the cast.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields after J.M. Barrie is booking until the 5th of January at the Pleasance London.

Running time: 2 hours including interval.

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