Sunday 22 February 2015

Theatre Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong at Theatre Royal, Bath

This review was first written for The Public Reviews

There’s a satisfying air of barely subdued panic in the auditorium before the beginning of Mischief Theatre’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong. There are technicians handing out hard hats, last minute adjustments being made to the stage and a request from the director for anyone with theatrical experience to help out. It suggests that the wrong-going is all going to plan.
If you’ve seen The Play That Goes Wrong, you’ll already be familiar with the work of the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and its slickly shambolic 1920s’ murder mystery. Here they are presenting their very own reinterpretation of J M Barrie’s Peter Pan; not so much a late pantomime staged in February, we are assured, as a traditional Christmas vignette.
Or so Peter Pan’s director Chris Bean (Laurence Pears) would have it anyway, in his on stage introduction with his less than compliant assistant Robert Grove (Cornelius Booth). Comic potential is established early on by the bushy bearded Robert being dressed in a man-sized Babygro, ready as a last minute replacement for the part of the youngest of the Darling family, Michael.
What then ensues is an initially traditional retelling of the Peter Pan classic, undermined almost immediately by a rich Noises Off style series of malfunctioning scenery, misplaced props and increasingly impossible costume changes. There’s sheer farce in some of the pratfalls being predictably enjoyable but others so unexpected as to be a genuine surprise. The tally of physical injuries (at times realistically painful-looking) mounts up and attempts at on-stage rescue and repair become more and more disruptive. Already tense relationships between this motley crew of am-dram actors disintegrate further, thanks to the over-sharing brought about by some miscued sound effects.
The cast delivers a master class in perfectly portrayed lapses, slipping out of character enough to reveal the rifts between them, while maintaining a grim show-must-go-on facade. Leonie Hill is particularly enjoyable as the overacting, over dancing Sandra in the lead role of Wendy and Cornelius Booth as Robert transforms into a very silly Michael Darling and a hilariously incomprehensible duo of pirate and parrot. Alex Bartram in his guise of Peter pulls off some wildly erratic aeronautical sequences and Laurence Pears is an inspired Captain Hook, taking on the whole audience in his irate determination that the play is on no account to be turned into a pantomime (oh, yes it is…).
Helmed by real director Adam Meggido, the pace in this relentless, supposedly woebegone production never really lets up. The revolving set designed by Simon Scullion providing an energy all of its own,  turning to reveal a series of backstage misdemeanours and failing to stop at all in the see-sawing pirate finale. It may not be subtle, but this cleverly constructed, side-splitting family show is perfect half-term entertainment. It has you wondering whether anything really is going wrong on the night, but certainly a great deal is going right.

Currently on UK tour, click here for dates and venues| Photo: Alastair Muir

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