If you’ve seen and enjoyed the smash hit The Play That Goes Wrong then you’ll love the follow-up: an equally hilarious and anarchic annihilation of the Peter Pan story. The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are at it again, bringing all their um, ‘talents’, clashing egos and stage misfortune to wreak havoc at your local theatre.
The production, which is on tour, is currently playing at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. If you saw their previous catastrophe, Peter Pan Goes Wrong will need no summary. For the uninitiated, the show will appeal if you enjoy a bit of broad slapstick (and there’s nothing wrong with that). Using the idea of a play within a play, the actors play actors presenting a production of Peter Pan, where anything that can conceivably go wrong, does go wrong, with hilarious results.
In some ways, Peter Pan Goes Wrong builds on the success of the earlier production and explores more theatrical possibilities. Thus actors gracelessly flying around on winches, a revolving set and a gratuitous amount of builder’s bum are amongst the new innovations for this production. There are some cracking performances too. Laurence Pears is outstanding as Captain Hook: as tall, thin and tightly coiled as John Cleese and equally prone to nervous collapse. Wearing the hook on a different hand in every scene is an inspired and brilliant touch. Naomi Sheldon has rapid and only partially-successful costume changes down to a fine art, whilst Cornelius Booth is hysterically funny at almost every moment he’s on stage. We especially adored his indecipherable pirate dialect.
Yet taken as a whole, Peter Pan Goes Wrong isn’t as fresh and inventive as The Play That Goes Wrong, and reveals the limitations of the format that relies on some repetition of ideas from its earlier success. Amongst the moments of comic genius, there are a few jokes that misfire, whilst others are regrettably laboured. Thus we hear about backstage romances via badly recorded sound effects that never quite works, and a loose plank in the face can be funny a few times, but with ever diminishing returns. There’s also a moment of fire on stage that doesn’t quite hit the mark, perhaps because the set-up is too obvious.
The moments that miss will be quickly forgotten by several glorious set-pieces that lift the whole production. The stage crew rescuing an actor stuck in a door whilst mother sings a goodnight lullaby; an underwater sequence, and a stunning finale on a spinning stage are all hugely impressive and beautifully played, and you’ll find your heart in your mouth worrying for the safety of the actors plenty of times before the relief of the final curtain. Those with a truly wicked sense of humour (and that’s most of us) will also delight in the perilous situations a child is put in throughout the show. Those moments had us wiping away a few tears of joy. We don’t often cover programmes as part of our review, but our laughter continued in the interval reading the (fictional) director’s notes and cast biographies – recommended.
Despite the hit and miss nature of the jokes, there is plenty of madness in Peter Pan Goes Wrong that is likely to have you chuckling most of the way through. It’s brash, bold, feel-good fun. If you’re on the lookout for some finely-honed and skilfully executed slapstick, then this show will tick all the boxes, and raises the bar for this style of comedy. Not recommended for the faint of heart.