PETER PAN GOES WRONG
The Alexandra, Birmingham, Tuesday 18th February, 2020
Mischief Theatre followed up their mega-hit The Play That Goes Wrong with this adaptation of J M Barrie’s classic. This one continues the traditions established by the earlier show by framing the performance within the context of an inept am-dram group with their internal dramas and shortcomings foreshadowed and impinging on proceedings. What makes this one better than the first, to my mind, is that because we are familiar with the source material, our expectations are higher. We know what should be happening and our expectations are both met and confounded in the same instant. For example, we know Peter Pan is supposed to come flying in through the bedroom window and we expect something will go awry but when it happens/fails to happen, it’s funnier than we could have hoped.
I won’t give away the shocks and surprises but the show adheres to Sod’s Law: what can go wrong, will go wrong; and so we get collapsing set pieces, props going astray, lighting and sound cues botched, lines mangled, and so on, all while the inner conflicts and agendas of the cast play out in and around Barrie’s much-loved story.
It’s a breath-taking cavalcade of disaster. Every nightmare every actor ever had is crammed into this catalogue of failures. And that’s where the success lies. For everything to go so ‘wrong’, everything must go absolutely right. The timing is impeccable – I dread to think what the risk assessments are like for this production!
Katy Daghorn’s Wendy brings over-acting to a new low, with dance moves illustrating every phrase. James Marlowe’s Pan manages to pursue his off-stage womanising despite his experiences on the wires. Oliver Senton is a scream as long-suffering canine retainer, Nana – and later, he is hilariously unintelligible as pirate Starkey. Romayne Andrews is suitably one-note as John, being fed his lines by radio feed, and Phoebe Ellabani has an exhausting series of quick changes, switching from Mrs Darling to the maid, often between lines. Her Tinker Bell comes a cropper in line with Barrie’s narrative, adding another layer of brilliance to the script (by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields). Patrick Warner carries on doggedly as the Narrator with a wayward chair, and George Haynes’s pain is palpable as he struggles on as Mr Darling and as a Captain Hook who decries audience participation. Georgia Bradley’s Tootles, afflicted by crippling stagefright (among other things) is good fun, and watch out for Ethan Moorhouse as hapless stage hand ‘Trevor’. But it is Tom Babbage who wins our hearts, playing ‘Max’ who is only in the show because of a financial contribution. Yes, this is a version of Peter Pan that gets us rooting for the crocodile!
It’s quite simply one of the funniest nights you will ever have at the theatre and it leaves you marvelling at the skill of the cast who manage to fake all this catastrophe without apparent injury. The show celebrates the human spirit, to keep going when all around you is collapsing. The show must go on and so must life!
You’ve been framed! James Marlowe wings it as Peter Pan
Leave a comment | tags: Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Ethan Moorhouse, George Haynes, Georgia Bradley, Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, James Marlowe, Jonathan Sayer, Katy Daghorn, Mischief Theatre, Oliver Senton, PAtrick Warner, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Phoebe Ellabani, review, Romayne Andrews, Tom Babbage | posted in Review, Theatre Review
THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG
Belgrade Theatre, Coventry, Monday 23rd January, 2017
Those of us involved in live performance in any way will have stories to tell, usually for comic effect, about moments on stage that have gone awry: a prop that wasn’t there, a missed cue, a technical mishap, or even just the hell of being stranded in a scene with a co-star who is less than competent. Writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields have gathered all those moments and distilled them into a nightmare – for the actors. For the audience, it’s a treat.
“Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society” are staging ropey old murder mystery The Murder at Haversham Manor. Beset from the start by difficulties, they battle on to the bitter end, incurring injury and embarrassment along the way. Patrick Warner plays director Chris Bean, bringing a touch of Basil Fawlty to his moments of extremis. He also appears as Inspector Carter – our pleasure comes from seeing his characterisation slip as his desperation and exasperation grow. Edward Judge is a delight as bombastic Thomas, declaiming in plus fours, while Alistair Kirton shamelessly plays to the gallery every time a bit of posturing receives approval. Before long he has gained confidence and is gesturing and gesticulating like a semaphore signaller. Meg Mortell flits around in the ingénue role until a mishap causes her to be replaced by a clueless stage manager who soon becomes violently possessive about her new role. Jason Callender makes for the most mobile and expressive corpse you will ever see, and Edward Howells’s butler, hopeless at pronunciation, is consistently hilarious. Add to the mix, Graeme Rooney’s less-than-conscientious lighting and sound operator and the drama that unfolds is not the one the drama society would like us to see.
Instead, the tension comes from watching this talented cast perform feats of physical comedy that are painfully funny. We cringe at the awfulness of their plight, marvel at the way they get out of situations, and gasp at the surprises that crop up in their path. Director Mark Bell manages the mania and the descent into chaos, giving us shocks and suspense, both of which we relish.
An unadulterated pleasure to have the chance to see this show as it tours again, but this time I am struck by what it says about us as humans. The show-must-go-on mentality is a cliché, but beyond the theatre, this play going wrong can also be a metaphor for human endeavour. Despite what life throws at us, there is a drive to keep things going, to bring order, to adapt and endure, even if it all comes crashing down around us. It’s what enables us to survive as a species.
Leave a comment | tags: Alistair Kirton, Belgrade Theatre Coventry, Edward Howell, Edward Judge, Graeme Rooney, Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, Jason Callender, Jonathan Sayer, Mark Bell, Meg Mortell, PAtrick Warner, review, The Play That Goes Wrong | posted in Theatre Review
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS
Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 17th March, 2015
The National Theatre’s hit production reaches Wolverhampton for the final week of its tour and the energy levels show no signs of flagging. The emphasis is on laughs and plenty of them in this non-stop cavalcade of comedy in the old-fashioned way, right down to the comic asides that keep us in on the action.
Francis Henshall (Gavin Spokes) has been kicked out of his skiffle band but finds employment as a general factotum to not one but two unsavoury characters in the form of Roscoe Crabbe (really his own twin sister, impersonating her late brother!) and the boyfriend of Roscoe’s twin sister (and also his murderer) Stanley Stubbers. Add to the mix, arranged marriage, large sums of money and a shedload of slapstick, and the stage is set for a riotous couple of hours. It’s farce. It’s commedia dell’arte. It’s seaside postcards and Carry On.
Spokes heads an ebullient cast. The comic timing is flawless. As hapless Henshall, Spokes throws himself into the role, literally – he even beats himself up. But, despite the title, this is not a One Man show. Shaun Williamson is superb as long-suffering patriarch, Charlie ‘the Duck’ Clench, with Jasmyn Banks hilarious as his melodramatically thick daughter, Pauline. A perfectly ridiculous Edward Hancock struts and postures around as wannabe actor Alan Dangle and David Verrey is good value as his lawyer father, Harry Dangle. The two guvnors, Alicia Davies and Patrick Warner, are equally preposterous in their characterisations – this is not a show about nuance. Characters are caricatures at the service of the plot and it’s utterly refreshing to see something so old-school working so well.
Emma Barton’s Dolly brings to mind a Joe Orton creation – in fact, Richard Bean’s wonderful script mines the traditions of British humour from the past three or four centuries. I particularly enjoyed Derek Elroy’s cheery old lag Lloyd Boateng but geriatric waiter Alfie (Michael Dylan) almost steals the show. It is Gavin Spokes who drives the engine, adlibbing with audience members and clearly still enjoying himself after all this time on the road.
Scene changes are covered by skiffle band The Craze (not the Krays, as I thought when I first heard them) but the interludes become increasingly bizarre as the show goes on. We are treated to a xylophone solo and later, someone plays an array of rubber-headed horns. It all adds to the heightened atmosphere of a piece that revels in contrivance and artificiality.
You don’t need to know the play’s heritage (although it’s detailed in the programme) to be able to laugh your face off at this relentlessly funny production. An absolute delight from start to finish.
Leave a comment | tags: Alicia Davies, David Verrey, Derek Elroy, Edward Hancock, Emma Barton, Gavin Spokes, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Jasmyn Banks, Michael Dylan, National Theatre, One Man Two Guvnors, PAtrick Warner, review, Richard Bean, Shaun Williamson | posted in Theatre Review