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.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is the spin-off of a wonderful play I had the pleasure of seeing last year in Covent Garden: The Play that Goes Wrong. It was an unusual comedy, where the actors portrayed less talented performers from a frankly terrible theatre company putting on a murder mystery. Things don’t go as planned and hilarity ensued.
Later that year I heard about Peter Pan Goes Wrong and its limited run but sadly, at the time, I couldn’t come over to see it. So imagine my surprise when I saw they were doing it again this year. I literally jumped for joy, and I don’t do that very often.
I went to see Peter Pan Goes Wrong on Saturday, on the 2nd day of its current run, which lasts until January 2017, at the Apollo Theatre in the West End. To make sure I had the best experience I dished out some extra money for the Grand Circle, on reading it had extra leg room, something that due to my height is always a necessity.
As someone who knew The Play that Goes Wrong, the moment I sat down I kept my eyes open, hoping to notice anything weird. What makes the plays that Mischief Theatre puts on so special is that they start well before the curtain rises, with cast members moving around the audience, chatting away or simply using them for some situational or slapstick comedy. The actors playing stagehands work furiously on the rinky-dink set to make sure everything is in working conditions.
And so the audience has a few giggles, particularly when Bailey Patrick takes the stage as the head technician and does everything he tells the audience not to do during the show, from having their mobiles on to taking photos.
It was a pleasure to see Harry Kershaw again as the director of the play from the “The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society,” joined now by the assistant director played by Oliver Senton. They have a bitter rivalry over who made the worst mistake in the past and together recount some of the more unusual past Christmas plays put on by the Drama society, such as “Jack and the Bean,” the stalk cut out due to financial reasons.
What follows is pure insanity, another of Mischief Theatre’s exercises in controlled chaos, with a choreographed series of accidents and unfortunate events, from Peter Pan’s harness sending him flying against walls to the Darling children’s bunk-beads collapsing on top of one another.
The writing in Peter Pan Goes Wrong is clever, witty and manages to bring in the actual lines from the classic while still mixing it with the improvisations the cast have to make when things start to spiral out of control.
Having said so, the first half of Peter Pan Goes Wrong is stronger, as there is still a sense of normality in the Polytechnic’s play, so the crazy events have a bigger impact. On the second half, while still astoundingly hilarious, the audience already expects the worst. Still, the sheer level of madness with which Mischief Theatre tops itself minute to minute is amazing.
When the play ultimately goes out of control, it’s in a storm of out of control harnesses, a revolving set without brakes, a sing-along, a little girl in a wheelchair and cast in between costumes.
One this Peter Pan Goes Wrong does much better than its murder mystery counterpart is how it manages to have backstage subplots in addition to the craziness happening onstage. The two-timing Peter Pan, the bad actor with a heart of gold only there because the company needs his family’s money, the rather sultry Wendy, the stage-frightened child actress and the two bickering directors and more blend together seamlessly amidst the chaos and give the audience a hero to root for and more reasons to laugh.
The moments when the play suddenly turns into a pantomime had me in stitches, with Captain Hook asking “Oh where could Pan be?” and the rest of the audience shouting “Behind you!” much to his chagrin. I thought I would pass out then. I could not breathe from laughing so hard.
Peter Pan goes wrong is phenomenal and I recommend it for everyone. It’s astonishing how they pull off so many technical gags with harnesses, falling equipment, a black screen with glowing fishes and more, while at the same time telling multiple stories that come to a satisfying conclusion in the middle of a song and dance routine! I honestly love Mischief Theatre and next time I’m going to see their latest play, Comedy About Bank Robbery!
On a final note: I hate the Apollo Theatre, as there is very little space. With the limited leg room and the packed theatre, after the intermission I had to see the play standing at the back. From sitting in the same uncomfortable position my knees ached and my legs cramped. If I ever have to go back to that theatre, and for Peter Pan Goes Wrong I would, I’ll sit in the front row, then at least I might have enough room to stretch.