Peter Pan Goes Wrong comes from the team that brought us The Play That Goes Wrong in which the inept Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society tried to stage an Agatha Christie-style murder mystery – and really did murder it, with virtually every element of the production skidding off the rails in disastrous, hilarious fashion, from forgotten lines to mixed up props to a collapsing set.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong uses the same formula on a production of J.M. Barrie’s much-loved story. For my money, it’s not as funny as its predecessor, particularly if you saw the former, though it has its moments.
Jordan Prosser, George Kemp, Francine Cain and Tammy Weller. Photograph @ David Watson
Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields for the UK’s Mischief Theatre Company, and directed by Adam Meggido, the comedy premiered in London’s West End in December 2015. Produced here by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Kenny Wax Ltd and Stage Presence with David Atkins Enterprises and ABA, it is performed by an Australian cast.
The farcical play-within-a-play structure means that the cast are playing ill-equipped amateur actors playing characters in Peter Pan. As with The Play That Goes Wrong, it’s clear that things are already awry before the curtain even goes up. As the audience take their seats, the Cornley crew are still trying to set the stage and lay some cables, while one of the Cornley cast, Dennis (George Kemp), is asking audience members to help him practice his lines. Then on come actor/director Chris Bean (Connor Crawford) and his assistant director Robert Groves (Luke Joslin) – who is adamant he is the co-director – and the real shenanigans begin as Chris insists that the production we are able to see is NOT a pantomime, while Robert clearly thinks it is.
Francine Cain, Darcy Brown, Luke Joslin. Photograph © David Watson
There are some very funny moments in the opening scenes, which are set in the bedroom of the Darling children, with the dog Nana (Luke Joslin) getting stuck in the door flap, the bunk bed collapsing, Peter Pan (Darcy Brown) finding his black onesie-clad shadow (Joslin again), and Tammy Weller zipping between frenetic costume changes to play both Mrs Darling and the maid. Then as Peter Pan (Darcy Brown) flies in upside down, and crashes into the scenery, we’re off to Neverland.
The problem with the production is that too much of it is predictable, and too many of the jokes are used too often without a sufficiently funny punchline for the repetition. Dennis, for example, can’t remember his lines so is wearing very visible headphones, which buzz every time a cue is fed to him. Not only does he trot out his lines in a monotone fashion, but also the instructions given him about his performance as John Darling and Mr Smee, as well as other sound cues mistakenly pumped through to him. In the second act, he parrots a backstage row that he can hear through the headphones. Kemp does it very well but by then the device already feels a bit overdone and the sequence is far too long. Other mishaps with the sound cues mean we suddenly hear Robert’s audition tapes, which aren’t particularly funny.
Jay Laga’aia, Luke Joslin and Connor Crawford. Photograph © David Watson
The second act centres on the pirate ship, which keeps disappearing and reappearing when the revolving stage won’t stop spinning (revealing far more than it should). What’s more, the ship keeps lurching up and down, plummeting the actors (including one now in a wheelchair) back and forth.
Simon Scullion gets the amateur vibe exactly right with this set designs, and there’s some cute, clever costuming by Roberto Surace, including a tutu for Tinkerbell, which lights up in (literally) electrifying fashion when plugged into mains.
Teagan Wouters, Luke Joslin, George Kemp, Jay Laga’aia and Francine Cain. Photograph © David Watson
The cast all go for broke, and do a brilliant job in landing all the tricks and pratfalls, where timing is crucial. Connor Crawford is particularly good as the deadly serious director Chris Bean, who also plays Mr Darling and Captain Hook. Jay Laga’aia brings plenty of charm to the role of the narrator, who is shunted on stage on a chair, which has a life of its own. Francine Cain is very amusing as the shiny Sandra who overacts her little socks off, physicalising almost every moment as Wendy Darling as if she were in a dance ensemble, and Jordan Prosser has the audience in the palm of his hand as Max – who has only been cast because his uncle has donated a lot of money to the production – but who wins the audience over as the crocodile.
Tammy Weller as Tinkerbell. Photograph © David Watson
Tammy Weller is a delight not only as Mrs Darling and the maid, but as Tinkerbell and Tiger Lily, Luke Joslin is a hoot as the pompous Robert, while George Kemp as Dennis, Darcy Brown as the actor playing Peter Pan (and having flings with two of the female cast), Teagan Wouters as the painfully shy Lucy, and Adam Dunn as the stage manager Trevor all play their parts well.
Overall, the production doesn’t have enough surprises up its sleeve and so loses momentum, eventually running out of steam before the final curtain falls, but there’s still plenty of fun to be had along the way. The theatre program meanwhile is very funny, and well worth a look.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong plays at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre until March 3, then Perth March 7 – 17