Pamela Raith Photography

Peter Pan Goes Wrong


As expected from Mischief, the company behind both this show and West End hits like The Play That Goes Wrong, the absolute commitment to the bit starts well before the actual show. Half the programme is an elaborate in-character joke, and the actors are causing plenty of mayhem whilst the audience is still taking their seats. We’re in it from the start — something that’s important in a show that relies so much on the audience being willing to suspend all cynicism and go along for the ride. 

The cast is a mixture of both the original and touring casts, and some of the touring members’ performances do perhaps owe a little bit of a debt to their originators — although they become more distinct as the play goes along, with Jean-Luke Worrell’s narrator feeling particularly fresh. The premise of Peter Pan Goes Wrong is simple: our old friends at the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are putting on a classic Christmas play, and it’s all about to go disastrously wrong. The play is crammed full of expert sight gags and classic slapstick, precision-timed so that the ripple of laughter never truly disappears. The plot of Peter Pan is interwoven with the drama society members’ own bathetic love lives and ambitions, and the agony of contending with the terrible acting and petty dramas of your castmates will be familiar with anybody who has dabbled in amdram. 

There is no obvious gag they are above — and no gag they are above repeating — but somehow the sheer joy and, well, yes, mischief of it all sweeps you away anyway. There’s an element of the Stewart Lee philosophy that if you just keep going long enough it all becomes funny all over again. They trust that their audience — whether new, or part of the ever-growing coterie of dedicated fans — are all behind them, prepared to back them up in the joke or even help build it out themselves. Harry Kershaw’s furiously raucous interactions with the audience as Chris Bean are a particular highlight, including his indignant references to Nicole Scherzinger’s rapturous reception down the road at Sunset Boulevard. Charlie Russell and Nancy Zamit are also both particularly strong physical comedy actors, and Zamit does some truly impressive scrambling through the many, many roles the production demands of her — the number of quick-changes, of course, soon becoming a joke in and of itself. 

There are big spoonfuls of pathos to keep us emotionally engaged in the second act, which occasionally leans a little too full-tilt, running at such a fever pitch it can edge into the merely chaotic. But there’s enough to hold it together — a couple of genuinely sweet moments, call-backs fully coming into their own — that it all comes to a satisfying ending. The crew are perhaps the real heroes of this production, which must be astonishingly precise and carefully managed in order to avoid real injury, and it was lovely to see them come on for their own bows at the end. Peter Pan Goes Wrong is not groundbreaking theatre, but it doesn’t pretend to be. It’s perfect family entertainment that never stops being properly funny, and sometimes that’s just what you need.