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Peter Pan Goes Wrong review: A riotous comedy that wears a bit thin

Peter Pan Goes Wrong
The company of Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Image: Pamela Raith Photography)

Peter Pan has gone wrong before. Just look at Spielberg’s godawful film Hook, a rare and disastrous misstep in the director’s career. The difference with Peter Pan Goes Wrong is that the disaster is deliberate as the made-up Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society puts on a production of J. M. Barrie’s  1904 play Peter and Wendy that’s marred by mayhem, ego, and amateurism run rampant.

This riotous comedy comes courtesy of the not-made-up Mischief Theatre company. If you’ve seen any of their other shows, like The Play That Goes Wrong, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, or Magic Goes Wrong, you’ll know what to expect. Things go wrong, then badly wrong, then deliriously, dangerously so.

Charlie Russell (Sandra), Matthew Howell (Robert) and Greg Tannahill (Jonathan) in Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Charlie Russell (Sandra), Matthew Howell (Robert) and Greg Tannahill (Jonathan) in Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Image: Pamela Raith Photography)

People crash into each other and the scenery. They get their lines wrong and mistime their cues. Props go AWOL and lights go out. Personal grievances are aired and the dalliances indulged. It takes really good actors to play useless ones and this lot are brilliant at being bad. They’re also fearless when it comes to physical comedy.

It’s very clever and the timing is breathtaking. It does, however, become a bit predictable and repetitive. I mean, seeing one person being convincingly concussed is really funny. Two or three more – yawn.

“The audience roared throughout and I also laughed a lot”

That said, director Chris Bean and writer Susie H. K. Brideswell are pretty inventive while working within the Mischief formula. There’s lots of hilarious stuff involving a pirate with an impenetrable accent, a narrator having to improvise with a snappy rendition of ‘All That Jazz’, a man dressed as a dog stuck in a doorway, a Peter Pan stand-in hanging upside down with his exposed workman’s bum and a collapsed set of bunk beds that imprison some of the cast.

And what a cast they are. Annie Twilloil is a standout as, among other characters, a cheeky Tinkerbell who expresses herself through strange dance moves. And director Chris’s Captain Hook is blisteringly caustic as he tries in vain to quell an audience whose yells of “Behind you” do his head in.

Chris Leask (Trevor), Matthew Howell (Robert), Clark Devlin (Dennis), Matthew Cavendish (Max) and Jean-Luke Worrell (Francis) in Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Chris Leask (Trevor), Matthew Howell (Robert), Clark Devlin (Dennis), Matthew Cavendish (Max) and Jean-Luke Worrell (Francis) in Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Image: Pamela Raith Photography)

Everyone else works at full pelt and their slapstick skills are astonishing, although for me the slapstick wears a bit thin in the second half and there are irritating lapses in logic. Why doesn’t someone just pull the plug on the audition tapes that keep interrupting scenes with embarrassing revelations? Is the guy being fed lines through headphones really so stupid that he can’t differentiate between dialogue and traffic reports? And why is the stagehand who has to fill in for an unconscious Pan not in costume?

Maybe I’m overthinking it but what could have been sophisticated farce is hyperactive and a bit tiring. The audience roared throughout and I also laughed a lot. By the end, though, I was worn out and needed a lie-down, just like the actors I imagine.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is at the Lyric Theatre, London, until 14 January. Get tickets here. The show then tours the UK until 14 April. Get tour tickets here

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