mon 20/05/2024

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Apollo Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Apollo Theatre

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Apollo Theatre

Mischief Theatre spreads comic mayhem yet again

Airborne (in their way): the company of `Peter Pan Goes Wrong' Alastair Muir

The pleasures to be found in the pitfalls that are part of live performance rear their accident-prone head yet again in Peter Pan Goes Wrong, the latest exercise in controlled (or is it?) chaos from Mischief Theatre, the young and clearly very resilient troupe that is gradually extending its farcical tentacles across the West End.

With their Olivier Award-winning hit The Play That Goes Wrong ensconced at the Duchess Theatre and an original play, The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, due to open at the Criterion in April, Peter Pan Goes Wrong provides a mainstream berth for a study in comic delirium that was first seen at the Pleasance Theatre two years ago and has now ridden the crest of a gathering wave of appreciation for this fresh-faced ensemble into town.

Quite how this company – the cast consisting of the original Play That Goes Wrong team with a few substitutions and additions to the ranks – has kept soul and (more importantly) body together while, say, the set is collapsing around or even on top of them remains one of the more cheerful conundrums besetting London theatreland at the moment. On the other hand, chances are you'll be too busy joining in the crescendoes of laughter to spend too much time pondering just how it is that the piece manages to stop just this side of anarchy. (At the performance I attended, a young girl midway back in the stalls threatened briefly to make herself the occasion of the evening, but that sense of an audience in mirthful freefall is cleverly, and aptly, kept in check by the cast.)  

The story itself scarcely matters, JM Barrie's time-honored tale there so that writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields can make meta-theatrical hay, ramping up the level of catastrophe to a realm well beyond what the comparably-minded Patrick Barlow has attained in shows like Ben Hur and The 39 Steps (or the more often-cited comparison, Noises Off). And the addition to the cast of 2012 Tony Award nominee Tom Edden, from One Man, Two Guvnors, places director Adam Meggido's cheerfully calamitous production in the tradition of that long-running hit as well: bedlam, on this evidence, seems long ago to have ceased being a London hospital in favour of a theatrical state of being. 

Much of the fun of the evening lies in the element of surprise, not least because a glance at the text makes clear how tightly scripted the apparent disorder indeed is. Suffice it to say that Edden joins gamely in proceedings, playing a side-of-stage narrator whose chair has a mind of its own, as is the wont of props in the Mischief Theatre modus operandi. Playing members of the same hapless Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society that came to (deliberate) grief in The Play That Goes Wrong, mainstays like Dave Hearn's adulation-happy Max (pictured above) are back, his signature grin intact, while Nancy Wallinger gets a running quick-change sight gag that is worth the price of admission on its own.

The aerial requirements of the source material prove expected cause for alarm, as does one performer (Ellie Morris) called Tootles who is so indrawn that she is an accident quite literally waiting to happen – the stage manager (Chris Leask) himself sufficiently busy swilling beer that he may not be the best person to help. 

Greg Tannahill's Peter (pictured left with Nancy Wallinger as Tinkerbell) struggles to make it through with something resembling consciousness intact, while co-writer Shields doubles the roles of George Darling and Captain Hook so as to luxuriate in the boos from the house that go with playing the latter ("Grow up!" he barks good-naturedly by return.) Favourite moments? I remain partial to the scissors/spoon gag early on, not to mention the repeated intrusions of a wayward headset. And the fact that the closing lines make the rather sweet point of releasing us into that "big adventure" called life serves as a reminder that even tomfoolery of this superior order can have a human pulse and heart as well.   

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