Last year I reviewed (sort of) the wonderful comedy play Peter Pan Goes Wrong by Mischief Theatre. I loved it, despite a weak second act, and it surprised me, pleasantly that is, to see that the show would become a BBC Christmas special for the end of 2016, this time with Mr. Poirot himself, David Suchet, as the narrator for the story.
While the show makes the transition well enough, you lose some of the things that make Mischief Theatre productions so special.
When you sit down at the theatre, waiting for the play to begin, it’s already started. The ‘staff’ are fixing the stage, rewiring the electricity, nailing things to the walls, trying again…and again. Even before the curtains rise, you are already enjoying Peter Pan Goes Wrong.
The second, and related, bit is that the cast interact with the audience. They walk up to you, introduce themselves in-character, be it as the producer, director or even star. It adds another layer to the presentation, a bit more humour that is entirely situational. It’s always different.
The last bit that is missing is the introduction. Before every play, you have the Director and Producer of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society standing in front of the curtains speaking of their mishaps in past productions and how much things have improved this time around.
In the BBC version of Peter Pan Goes Wrong, you instead have behind the scenes footage that have bits of the introductions I mentioned but lack the hilarious mentions of past plays, which is something I always look forward to since watching The Play that Goes Wrong a couple of years ago. On the upside, the rehearsal footage is quite funny, as they look more like a blooper real than anything else.
David Suchet is brilliant in taking it all in stride, and adding a surprising amount of emotion to a candid confession on the poor unfortunate accident a cast member suffered in a past performance, which in turn makes the bit even funnier. And when things really go to hell, you can always count on Hercule Poirot to make a surprise appearance to keep everyone calm.
One of the things that I felt about Peter Pan Goes Wrong is that the final act, when things go suitably out of rails, is a bit too chaotic, too many things happening at once to be truly funny. The BBC version of Peter Pan Goes Wrong does something surprising. It takes it to the extreme by breaking free of the set and have it interfere with ‘regular’ BBC programming. And it works, it works great!
On a similar note, because it’s on the BBC, there is BBC staff present, played by other members of Mischief Theatre. I recognised Harry Kershaw, whom I’ve seen twice as the Director of the Cornley Polytechnic Society. His constant clashes with the Cornley stagehand Trevor are glorious, with the latter doing everything he can to mark his territory, claiming that when they’re live, it’s his stage.
In the end, does Peter Pan Goes Wrong on BBC work? Yes, it does so very well, but if you’ve seen other Mischief Theatre productions in the past, you’ll feel something is missing, a spark that you can only find in their live performances. Which is why next month I’m going to watch The Comedy about a Bank Robbery because I need my dose of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and/or Mischief Theatre comedic genius.