Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Image: Contributed
Venue: Milton Keynes Theatre
Performance Date: 04 February 2020
Writers: Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields (Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie)
Director: Adam Meggido
Reviewer: Sam Dunning
Star Rating: ★★★★★
In 1904 the first-ever production of Peter Pan was staged. J. M. Barrie’s pantomime (that wasn’t actually a pantomime but still had a lot of panto-esque similarities like the lead male being played by a female) became an instant hit and over the next century was adapted, recreated and loved in all different guises – from musical to play, from film to TV adaptation. The most famous is obviously the 1953 Disney recreation, and it is safe to say that thanks to that, and the regular reoccurring versions in tradition pantomime setting, that Peter Pan (to which Barrie famously and generously donated the rights to Great Ormond Street in 1929) will always be a family favourite.
110 years after Barrie’s play first appeared, a company named Mischief Theatre decided that what the world needed now, was the worst possible version of Peter Pan ever staged, and this is the same show that is touring now – six years after its first performance. It seems a little oxymoronic to say this is the best worst play ever staged, but it is the most accurate way of describing the masterpiece of errors that is this show. From the get-go, things are not going to plan and even before the show has officially started the audience are treated to the “cast and crew” attempting to fix and prep the stage ready for the “show”.
Once it begins properly this play depicts a local theatre group performing their Christmas spectacular, a version of Peter Pan, directed by Chris (George Haynes) who also takes on the roles of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, and assisted by Robert (Oliver Senton), who assumes the parts of Nana the Dog, Peter’s Shadow and Starkey. The relationship between these two characters is hugely entertaining. The seriousness of Hayes as Chris is perfectly countered by the over-exuberance and self-importance of Senton’s Robert, and the way each builds throughout the show is a terrific spectacle.
Francis (Patrick Warner) narrates Peter Pan and joins the pirates as Cecco, Jonathan (James Marlowe) takes on the titular role of Peter Pan, and they are joined on stage by Annie (Phoebe Ellabani) as Mrs. Darling, Lisa, Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily, Sandra (Katy Daghorn) who plays Wendy Darling, Max (Tom Babbage) performing the roles of Michael Darling, a mermaid and the Crocodile, and Dennis (Romayne Andrews) as John Darling, a mermaid, and Mr Smee.
It may seem a little excessive to mention almost an entire cast by name in a review, but in this case, it is absolutely deserved. The ability, chemistry and general hilarity exuded by each member is astounding. Warner’s representation of an amateur actor trying his best to continue despite the surrounding chaos is masterful.
Ellabani’s super quick costume changes, delivered with deliberate and often misplaced arrogance, are wonderful. Marlowe’s Jonathan flits effortlessly between cockiness and fear/reluctance due to the never-ending problems on stage. Babbage’s interaction with and playing of the audience are deliciously tongue in cheek. Andrews’ comic timing and expressionless manner as Dennis have the audience crying with mirth.
Daghorn’s overly enthusiastic delivery as Sandra is painfully but riotously familiar to anyone who has watched a rather amateur theatre production. Georgia Bradley and Ethan Moorhouse complete the cast, respectively playing Lucy, who performs the role of Tootles, and Trevor, the techie/stage manager.
Bradley’s fantastic portrayal of a young girl suffering from stage fright is uncomfortably comical, and Moorhouse brings the house down with almost every word and movement he completes. There are truly so many positive things that could be said about each and every member of the cast and creatives, but this review has a word limit, so it isn’t possible!
It has to be mentioned also, that during the interval of this particular performance it was announced that one of the cast (Romayne Andrews – who was entertaining the audience as Dennis with his brilliantly useless depiction of both John and Smee) sadly was unable to complete the show, and that understudy Christian James was stepping in for the second act. It is a huge credit to both James’ wonderful ability, and the brilliant writing of the show, that this did not take away from the performance in any way and the audience completely accepted the change (despite the irony that the storyline also involves a character replacement or two!)
Superlatives can also be declared about the ingenious staging and props (various unexpected faults and surprises add to the hilarity), the backstage crew who control all the clever mechanics and tech – and deservedly take a curtain call, and of course, the writing, which absolutely hits the level of unbelievably ridiculous but never excessively so.
Mischief Theatre has undoubtedly created a work of genius here. It is easy to see why they have achieved such huge international success in such a relatively short space of time. Peter Pan Goes Wrong is certainly a jewel in their crown, and it demands to be watched and enjoyed by anyone and everyone. Go see it (at least once) or you will sorely regret it.
Runs until: Saturday 8 February 2020