Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Paul Johnson | 12 Feb 2015 15:06pm
The Play That Goes Wrong has undeniably been one of the theatrical world’s biggest, and most pleasing, success stories of recent years. A small, self-written play by a fledgling group of recently-graduated actors, Mischief Theatre, has grown from a one-act, fringe piece into a huge, full-scale West End triumph, via a massively successful national tour. Many companies would be happy with that, content to bask in the glory of one mammoth hit, at least for a few years. But not the Mischief-makers. And so, just a year after its predecessor packed in audiences across the country, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is repeating the trick.
A direct sequel to The Play That Goes Wrong (although it should be stressed that it’s not necessary to have seen that play to enjoy this), Peter Pan Goes Wrong follows the adventures of the hapless Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society as they stage their version of JM Barrie’s classic children’s tale. Sequels are notoriously difficult to get right and, although this production predates the recent success of its parent show, much of its audience will have seen The Play… in the last 12 months and have it fresh in their minds. However, unlike many sophomore efforts, this is one that its makers have got exactly right; they have created a companion piece which takes the laughs and outrageous staging of the original to the next level, whilst retaining the heart and sincerity which made, and makes, its precursor so endearing. Many sequels expose the writers as having used up all their good ideas and, in the case of comedies, jokes in their original works. Not so this lot, who have created another masterpiece of farce. Not all of the gags hit home, and the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ going on towards the end gets a bit dizzying, with just a bit too much happening at once, lacking the deceptive simplicity of the earlier work, but the hit-rate is so high that this can easily be forgiven. Once again, this is almost relentlessly funny, with the comedy freewheeling seamlessly from one style to another. The slapstick, a very difficult thing to get right, and of which there is much, is carried out superbly well, while the more surreal moments are a welcome contrast. This is testament to the brilliant writing skills of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, who also wrote and appear in The Play…, and the hugely skilful, and game, cast, who throw themselves wholeheartedly into the utter lunacy of the shambles of the production (within the production).
I first saw Peter Pan… at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington around 14 months ago. Then, the Cornley actors were played by the original cast of The Play…, each of them having created a fully-rounded, recognisable character across the two productions. Of course, that cast is now fairly busy appearing in the West End every night and so, for this tour, a new cast has had to be found. At first, it is odd seeing different performers inhabit these roles, in the same way as it would be watching someone other than Rowan Atkinson attempting to play Mr Bean, or John Cleese being replaced as Basil Fawlty. It’s a difficult thing to get right – the audience needs to know who these characters are, especially if it has seen the first play, but equally should feel that they are real, rather than impersonations. At the start, it’s almost like watching a kind of play-within-a-play-within-a-play – new actors playing other actors playing yet more actors. However, this new cast is full of talent and soon eradicates any such concerns, with each of the performances achieving just the right balance, retaining many of the identifiable characteristics of the ‘originals’ but adding enough freshness to avoid any elements of mimicry.
This is a true ensemble piece, and each of the cast is excellent, displaying superb comic timing, both physically and verbally. It seems unfair to pick any individuals out but Cornelius Booth is an absolute joy. Booth is markedly older than his predecessor in the role, which allows for much additional, and inspired, comedy, particularly in earlier scenes when his character, Robert, finds himself playing young Michael Darling, complete with full, straggly beard and balding head. His incomprehensible pirate is also a highlight. As is his love of falafels.
It will be interesting to see where Peter Pan… goes once this tour has finished. There is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t follow its parent production into the West End. Either way, you should make sure you get along to see it (it’s touring until July so no excuses). The Play… is, by some distance, the funniest show I have ever seen, and whilst this successor doesn’t quite reach the same lofty heights, it is a very comfortable second. On the night I saw it, the laughter from the audience was incessant and uncontrollable, with many wiping away tears (of joy, presumably), and a number of the ingenious, disastrous set pieces were greeted with spontaneous rounds of applause. There was also an element of audience participation as, despite the (fictional) director’s best efforts to convince us otherwise, the temptation to view the play (within-the-play) as a pantomime was just too great for many to resist (of course, this was another expertly-structured, carefully planned conceit – if the audience hadn’t joined in, an entire scene late on would have been ruined).
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is another utter triumph for Mischief Theatre, and, whether or not you’ve seen The Play That Goes Wrong (and if you haven’t, you really should), this is a massively entertaining, hilarious and hugely fun night out. The Nativity Goes Wrong is also in existence, which indicates a theatrical franchise which could run and run. And I, for one, am very much hoping that it does.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong can be seen at the Churchill Theatre until Saturday, and then on tour until July.
- : admin
- : 11/02/2015