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!