Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Theatre Royal Nottingham

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a comedy play from the pen of the Mischief Theatre Company, creators of the now legendary Play That Goes Wrong. It tells the story of the fictional Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society who are staging (or rather, attempting to stage) a production of the JM Barrie classic Peter and Wendy. The joy of the piece is that this particular production is an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. I have to confess, I’ve never seen the Play That Goes Wrong but I am a huge fan of the Goes Wrong TV series. I’m intrigued to see how the farcical pratfalls and stagey mishaps are created live and in the flesh. I’m also intrigued to see how the professional company of actors before me will inhabit the fictional company of players. It must be an artform in itself to be a good actor portraying a bad actor! Let’s see…

The fun begins from the outset with madness in the auditorium as we take our seats. Technicians seek a screwdriver and electrical cabling is passed along the rows. There is a comedic mobile phone announcement and a visit to the stage by the fictional company stage manager Trevor (Jake Burgum) who is desperately attempting to sort the lighting out. The fact that he has clearly been enjoying a beer or two is of little consequence of course and Burgum sets the mood for the rest of the evening.

The set (designed by Simon Scullion) is impressive, and does a beautiful job of transporting us to the imagined home of Wendy, John, Michael and co. It is also an extremely versatile revolving space, suitably booby-trapped for the occasion. The set is almost like another character with a life of its own.  

This really is an ensemble piece with every single player doing their part to transport us to this amateur production. The amateur company is led by Chris Bean (Jack Michael Stacey). Chris is hard working and determined. He directs and portrays Captain Hook. He is at the centre of much of the madness. Stacey gives him a zany madcap energy which means that we simultaneously sympathise with him and also despair for him. He has a desperate ‘show must go on’ air about him and his angst makes the madness going on around him all the more hilarious. Robert Grove (Matthew Howell) is Bean’s assistant director who also has a starring role as Nana the dog. Howell is a superb farceur who gives Grove a delightful energy – his mishandling of the dog costume in the doorway is a hoot.

Helping us to navigate our way through the plot is narrator Francis (Jean-Luke Worrell). Francis is spectacularly good at being upstaged by the furniture and making mistimed entrances and exits. I have to say that it makes me laugh every time. Worrell has a joyously lugubrious facial expression which gives little away. I really enjoy the timing of the mistiming – such a skilful performance.

My personal favourite member of the Cornley company is Annie Twilloil, stage manager and set designer ably played here by Jamie Birkett. Annie has several characters to perform in the piece and there are some spectacularly fast quick-changes which Annie relishes but barely ever pulls off. One of her Tinkerbell costumes is particularly lethal too – wired in to the mains electricity in fact – hilariously so of course. This performance is physical comedy perfection.

The starring role of Peter Pan is performed by Jonathan Harris (Gareth Tempest). Harris is a working model, is vain and arrogant, and could start a fight in an empty lift. This leads to some amusing backstage rifts with the stage-hands which in turn leads to some very eventful stage flying scenes. Tempest performs these feats of daring with aplomb and to enormous appreciation from this audience. He does spend a considerable amount of time upside down and high above the stage – no mean feat.

Lucy Grove (Rosemarie Akwafo) plays Tootles and is extremely sweet although very stage shy. She believes in fairies and never quite seems to be following the plot. This leads to many hilarious frustrations as she is unwillingly and unwittingly thrown in to the action.

Dennis Tyde (Clark Devlin) gives us his Smee and some wonderfully dopey moments of hilarity. I adore that he is wearing a headset because he is unable to remember his lines. This leads to some very funny moments when it inevitably ‘goes wrong’ and he begins to relay stage directions and private crew conversations. The reactions of the other performers, including Max (Theo Toksvig-Stewart) and Sandra (Ciara Morris) are priceless – they can both be relied on to keep carrying the action forward of course.

All in all, this show is magnificently silly. It is pure farce. Escapism at its best. It is also a very clever piece of professional theatre. I believe it takes a very good troupe of performers to play a very bad troupe of performers. The direction by Adam Megiddo is superb. The physicality of the comedy alone demonstrates precision timing and a degree of gymnastic skill. A huge shout out must also go to the splendid crew behind the scenes who rightfully get to take a bow – this is obviously a very challenging show for the true behind the scenes technicians. They do a great job.

So, if you need a chuckle as the nights begin to draw in, then head to Nottingham Theatre Royal this week – Peter Pan continues to Go Wrong until Sunday 15th October.

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