fri 14/06/2024

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Lyric Theatre review - adult panto delivered as jolly chaos | reviews, news & interviews

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Lyric Theatre review - adult panto delivered as jolly chaos

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Lyric Theatre review - adult panto delivered as jolly chaos

Mischief Theatre’s sight gags are faultlessly timed, though the verbals need a trim

'Pan'-demonium: Matthew Howell, Clark Devlin, Matthew Cavendish and Jean-Luke WorrellPamela Raith Photography

Mischief Theatre set themselves a big challenge when they evolved their brand of knowing slapstick. And not just about how to destroy the scenery without maiming themselves.

More crucially, they have to pull off the Janus-faced trick of playing the amateur actors of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, indicated below in quotation marks, while getting the audience to applaud their brilliance. Mostly they succeed.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, their second show, was a West End hit in 2014, followed by transfers to Broadway and Los Angeles with guest stars on board` (Neil Patrick Harris joined the mayhem in the US this past spring). Now the play is back in the West End, the adult panto of choice – unless you prefer the slightly higher brow of another group of chaotic actors, the hardy troupers of the old rep system, currently to be seen at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, in Noises Off.

What Mischief offer is a good night out with audience participation of the usual “He’s behind you” kind. On opening night, “Chris Bean”, the amateur playing Captain Hook (Harry Kershaw), had a terrific time tearing into the audience for their backchat, which prompted even more choruses of “Oh, yet it is” as his bile rose. (He also had a dig at the evening’s lack of celebs, which presumably was a bit of improv.)Matthew Cavendish in Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Those who have already seen Mischief’s The Play That Goes Wrong, still playing at the Duchess Theatre, know what to expect: miscues, faulty electrics, internecine warfare among the cast members, painful-looking encounters with the set, and gravity. Here, the Darling children's triple bunk bed becomes an instrument of torture, Peter (Greg Tannahill) a human cannonball. The mains wiring – which the audience have to help the sparks with before curtain-up – powers the lights on Tinker Bell’s tutu, with fatal results. At the same time, the design is Sesame Street-larky, with Max's Crocodile (Matthew Cavendish, pictured above) whizzing in on a skateboard and the enchanted lagoon depicted with handheld fluorescent sea beasties on sticks in a total blackout.

Huge fun is had with the other wires, the ones Peter is supposed to fly in on, which reduce him to flailing and crashing. Better still, when he is temporarily hors de combat and replaced with Trevor (Chris Leask), the wires jerk the insouciant dangling spark along at a glacial pace – a sight gag the writers also employ with the giant chair The Narrator (an exuberant glitter-sprinkling Francis Beaumont) sits on, which develops a will of its own.

Timing is clearly paramount and, happily, faultless. The slapstick builds an impressive head of steam in the second act, leading to a dizzying set-piece where the revolve becomes a three-sided whirligig that spins the pirate ship’s tilted deck around to reveal a backstage area where two of the cast are locked in a deep snog, then on to medics treating one of the casualties of a cast/scenery encounter and back to the skew-whiff ship again. In this human blender of a set-up, all the actors apparently emerge unscathed. 

Whereas the sight gags and overall concept of the piece work well, less successful are the verbal elements. Lengthy speechifying for Hook/Mr Darling and “Robert Grove”, the pompous amateur actor who plays Starkey/Co-Director/Nana/Peter’s Shadow (Matthew Howell), may build up useful characterisation and exposition but slows the pace. Ditto the candid conversations that accidentally end up on the PA system in which we hear producers proffering cavils about the nepo-casting of Max, or Robert’s grandstanding audition tapes. They don’t add enough to justify their length.

More useful is the running gag involving “Dennis”, the dull-witted little chap playing John Darling (Clark Devlin), who has to have his part fed to him from the production booth through a large pair of headphones. His inability to judge what is and isn’t one of his lines is inherently funny, but then his headset starts randomly tuning into radio stations and he dutifully intones everything he’s hearing. His long speech in the finale, which blow by blow robotically relays the terminal spat between the couple producing the show, is well earned, but his random interjections throughout could be shorter and niftier. 

Nancy Zamit in Peter Pan Goes WrongThe performer who understands the requirements of this kind of role best, unsurprisingly, is Nancy Zamit (pictured left as Mrs Darling, who as "Annie Twilloil" also appears as Lisa the maid/Tinker Bell and Curly, until 17 Dec, then 11-14 Jan). A cofounder of Mischief and a regular player with the company since 2009, she is supremely adept at exploiting the physical side of her roles, whether bumping and grinding or simply raising an eyebrow. She is also the fastest quick-change artist you are likely to see, now that Ennio Marchetto is a rare visitor here.

Zamit is involved in what for me is the funniest single moment in the piece, when Tinker Bell is asked who could have put poison in a water bottle. Hook has had to recruit a woman in the front row to help him with this, confronted by a bottle with a screw top (a funny idea but a routine that goes on about a third too long). Deadpan, Zamit duly flicks a finger in this woman’s direction, and in that split second you see both Annie the at-sea amateur, happy not to be implicated but torn between dishing a member of the paying public and carrying out her role, as well as Zamit the accomplished comic actor. 

The piece could do with more such moments – the kind of effect Michael Frayn can achieve with just a wayward plate of sardines. But it’s a jolly night out, delivered as overwrought idiocy by an amiable cast.

The slapstick builds to a dizzying set-piece where the revolve becomes a three-sided whirligig


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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