Following Mischief Theatre’s smash hit comedy The Play That Goes Wrong, the company present a second outing of theatrical disaster when Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Leeds Grand Theatre this week. Promising perilously violent stunts, gloriously destructive sets and general calamity on stage, it offers a version of Peter Pan which audiences are never likely to forget.
When the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society pulls into town it is guaranteed something will go wrong. This year’s Christmas production of Peter Pan (opening in the Summer due to a booking error) is touted as the most expensive production from the company yet. Starting with noble and ambitions intentions, the show begins to fracture as actors drop out, scenery falls apart and lighting and sound runs wild. Famous for featuring a flying boy who didn’t grow up, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a downward tailspin of chaos, calamity and courage. As ever, the show must go on…
Comparable to Noises Off, Peter Pan Goes Wrong immerses its audience in the whole mad process of theatre, presenting a farce which is sustained by the courageous intention of its crew to get to the end of the show. A cutting parody on the bravura pomposity of amateur performance, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is also something of a celebration of the determination and effort which goes into getting a homespun play to stage. In many ways it beautifully showcases the constant threat of disaster which can befall any production, amateur or professional, highlighting the gusto and teamwork which actors, writers, technicians and all theatre staff strive towards to see their audiences entertained.
Structurally the show sets up a number of inciting problems which have to be resolved by sheer on-the-fly devisment by its characters. Small mistakes escalate into inescapable stage atrocities and much of the humor is drawn from the actors’ abilities, or amateur inabilities, to resolve an ever-escalating calamity. An ambitious rotating set, last minute understudies, backstage romances, and actors on wildly flying wires all contribute to a recipe for escalating anarchy.
The show’s cast have the style of amateur theatre perfectly and painfully nailed. Alex Bartram’s Jonathan (as Peter Pan) is pure legs-akimbo pomposity, parodying the typical leading man with dashing arrogance and a booming vocal dominance. Laurence Pears also impresses as Chris, the frustrated auteur who portrays Captain Hook as well as the show’s suffering director. A hurricane of a performance, obliterating everyone in his path, Chris is a devilish upstager, exhibiting a hilarious mustache-twisting campery. His petty onstage squabbling with assistant director Robert Grove is a masterstroke of genius, as is placing Grove as a shaky stand-in for a part intended for an adolescent. Grove is charmingly realised by Cornelius Booth with wizened hair and a colossal beard; the brave attempt to present a “youth” in a grubby pink onesie, with bounce and a desperate vigour, is painfully, pitifully hilarious. Mention must also go to Chris Leask who is the pure embodiment of an exhausted, long-suffering yet wholly heroic stage manager.
A faultlessly staged show such as this owes much to its highly technical direction by Adam Meggido, which operates with a clockwork-precision. Buttressed with perfectly shoddy costume and wigs, humble lighting, gaudy sets and patchy sound, the play feels convincingly homespun. Harvesting laughter from physical pratfalling (the flying sequences are perilously brilliant) and genuine dramatic tension (there is an awkward backstory revelation), Peter Pan Goes Wrong manages to wrangle constant laughter from every level. Indeed, the show is so distilled with comedy business and detail that a second viewing will undoubtedly reveal other nestling gems among the chaos.
A living nightmare of amateur proportions, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is painfully funny and expertly realised. A nosediving farce in full flight, the show is an exceptionally frantic experience and just downright hilarious. Book your seat and enjoy the ride.