Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong
The guys behind the celebrated The Play That Goes Wrong are back with this disaster-filled seasonal comedy
When you laugh so much you give yourself a pain in your side you know a comedy show’s a winner.
It’s not quite panto season and this is not quite a panto. The ‘Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’ of The Play That Goes Wrong fame is back on stage battling more technical hitches, flying mishaps and cast disputes as they attempt to present a traditional version of J.M Barrie’s much-loved tale in, you’ve guessed it, Peter Pan Goes Wrong.
This touring version of the West End hit is on at the Theatre Royal in Bath from Tues 26 Nov to Sun 1 Dec.
It takes its inspiration from a real-life so-bad-it’s-good production of Peter Pan in a small town in the States in the 1970s when a series of prop and flying apparatus mishaps culminated in a call to the emergency services.
Of course the aerial antics of Peter Pan are just made for comedy misadventure but the skill with which the high wire hijinks are pulled off in this show is impressive.
There’s also disaster-laden fun with Tinkerbell’s illuminated dress and a boat that ends up riding the waves rather more realistically than intended.
Not every gag is a physical one. One character has to be fed his lines through a headset and through mishaps with the sound system we learn some backstage jealousies and personal problems that ultimately leave us rooting for the crocodile over Peter.
The cast have to be seriously fit for some of the stunts and they’re all decent actors besides. Tom Babbage pulls off a wonderful zero to hero as Michael Darling and the Crocodile. Phoebe Ellabani who plays multiple parts – including Mrs Darling and Tinkerbell, can seriously sing. Katy Daghorn injects some comical bits of momentary sass into the twee part of Wendy.
There also a fair bit to recommend it as a straight production, including great costumes and an inventive glow-in-the-dark underwater scene that would be a hit in any panto.
Of course, as the posters point out, this is not a pantomime. There’s no dame and only a couple of songs, though there’s fun when the audience takes the bait at certain points and tries to make it one, to the exasperation of the company’s luvvie:
Hook: “Where’s Peter?”
Audience: “He’s be-hind you!”
Hook: “I know that you fools!”
I saw the play on a school night and 95% of the audience members were grown ups but that’s likely to shift come the weekend. It’s billed as ‘for everyone but especially adults’ so, does it work for children?
I previously took a nine-year-old to The Play That Goes Wrong and he really struggled with the concept early on, especially in parts where the jokes relied heavily on missed cues and verbal slip-ups.
By contrast I took a 12-year-old to Peter Pan Goes Wrong and he loved it. No joke was too confusing and of course the fact he already knew the story helped. I’d say it works well for ages 10 upwards and kids 8+ would be able to enjoy the more physical goofs, of which there are many.
I enjoyed it more than the hugely popular The Play That Goes Wrong – there’s a revolving set, a faster pace and the jokes are less laboured.
Two different flying scene wardrobe malfunctions were my favourite gags of the show. When I asked my nephew his best bit he said “all of it!” though he spent a long time pondering how they pulled off a spectacular accident that closes Act 1.
The real wonder of this Peter Pan is how the cast don’t actually hurt themselves.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is at the Theatre Royal, Bath, Tues 26 Nov – Sun 1 Dec. theatreroyal.org.uk
Words: Debbie Ward. Photos: Alastair Muir