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Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Pamela Raith Photography
Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Pamela Raith Photography

Peter Pan Goes Wrong: Review

Home » Reviews » Peter Pan Goes Wrong: Review

Slapstick comedy has never gone out of fashion; as a genre, it transcends both time and language. It’s why the work of Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, and Charlie Chaplin continues to attract new converts. It’s also why the various incarnations of Mr Bean – TV series, movies, animation – has screened in a mind boggling 250 countries (Rowan Atkinson’s creation being particularly popular in Indonesia, for some bizarre reason).

And it’s why Mischief Theatre became box office heroes so quickly. The trio at the heart of the company – writers and actors Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields – met at the London Academy of Dramatic Art in West London, bonding over a shared love of visual comedy. The Play That Goes Wrong (2012) saw the company hit the ground running with a meticulously choreographed farce which had critics falling over themselves with five star write ups.

Taking a cue from Michael Green’s Art of Course Acting shows, the Mischief premise is simple: what if a group of amateur actors were completely blind to their paucity of talent? What if the backstage crew were similarly inept? And what if getting to the final curtain was some sort of desperate quest, worth risking life and limb over? Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society doesn’t have a motto as such but a lyric from ‘The Show Must Go On’ by Queen seems appropriate: ‘Inside my heart is breaking/My make-up may be flaking/But my smile still stays on.’

Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Pamela Raith Photography
Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Pamela Raith Photography

The company’s latest effort is a production of JM Barrie’s much loved Peter Pan. There are ten actors and lots of doubling up; director ‘Chris Bean’ (Jack Michael Stacey) plays the dual roles of Mr Darling and Captain Hook. ‘Robert Grove’ (Matthew Howell), a bellowing thespian from the Brian Blessed school of ‘more is more’, plays Nana the Dog, Peter’s shadow, and Starkey the pirate. ‘Dennis Tyde’ (Clark Devlin) plays John Darling and Smee; as an actor, he struggles to remember lines, and wears a radio headset, with a technician feeding him his cues (at one point, ‘Dennis’ makes an announcement for an Uber Taxi, waiting for a fare outside the theatre).

In comedy, ‘Bad acting’ requires good actors, blessed with skill and precision timing. One of the reasons Tommy Wiseau’s film ‘The Room’ has become such an accidental global cult, is that Wiseau is an appalling ham. With the first act of Peter Pan Goes Wrong, some of the cast are trying a bit too hard; mugging and winking at the audience, as if unsure what tone to strike. Things settle into a more consistent groove in Act 2, with the action moving all the way to Neverland.

In an age where many companies prefer to share cast information via hateful QR Codes, it’s great to come home from the theatre with a printed physical object. The Pan programme adds another layer of detail – an idea taken from Michael Frayn and Noises Off – with Mischief creating fake biographies for all the actors. ‘I am the official face of Superdrug’s own brand lip-gloss’, chirrups ‘Sandra Wilkinson’ (Ciara Morris) with obvious pride. There are fake programme adverts, including one from the ubiquitous ‘Robert Grove’, offering extracurricular services as meditation guru: ‘Join me on a journey into you!’

Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Pamela Raith Photography
Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Pamela Raith Photography

Having seen all of Mischief Theatre’s shows, Peter Pan – their sophomore effort – is probably the one with the most erratic script. One or two bits of business go on too long, giving a feeling that this is for the actor’s benefit rather than the audience. That said, there are scenes of real inspiration, particularly the ones dependent on reactions. Jack Michael Stacey – an excellently deadpan performer – needs to exit via a blocked door, and does so by squeezing through a ridiculously narrow gap, his face a picture of perspiring anguish. The hapless ‘Lucy Grove’ (Rosemarie Akwafo) injured herself in a previous Cornley production, but gamely takes part on crutches and pain killers; her yelps during the big musical number are rather hilarious.

A special mention to Jean-Luke Worrell; he brings a delightful energy to his role as narrator/pirate, coming over like a cross between Ru Paul and a naughty hobgoblin. Naturally Worrell gets a round of applause when, forced to cover during another dramatic faux pas, he breaks into an energetic version of the Backstreet Boys’ ‘Everybody.’
During the unhinged finale, the revolving stage goes out of control, spinning like a broken carousel. Carefully choreographed by director Adam Meggido, it’s worth seeing Peter Pan Goes Wrong for this scene alone. It’s rare for an opening night to be sold out: And it’s fantastic to see so many children in the audience, giggling with delight at something as simple as a pratfall.

The future of slapstick comedy is assured.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is at the Opera House Manchester from 26 to 31 March 2024.

Steve Timms
Written by
Steve Timms

Steve Timms grew up in Oldham and studied Theatre at the University of Huddersfield. He has written for several publications including City Life, The Big Issue, Litro. Little White Lies and Storgy. He is the author of several plays including Detox Mansion, American Beer, and Temp/Casual (staged at Contact Theatre in 2011). He is a recipient of the Peggy Ramsay award.

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Steve Timms Written by Steve Timms