Theatre Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Words: Ian Kingsbury
Friday 13 October 2023
reading time: min, words

Ian Kingsbury checks out Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the Theatre Royal...

036 77A9345 Peter Pan Goes Wrong Pamela Raith Photography

Mischief, the multi award-winning company responsible for the global comedy phenomenon The Play That Goes Wrong, and the BBC One television series The Goes Wrong Show, are at the Theatre Royal until 15 October on the Nottingham leg of their Peter Pan Goes Wrong UK tour.

Whilst there were some new faces on display in the cast (for anyone familiar with the aforesaid incarnations), the regular ‘Goes Wrong’ writing trio of Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields are behind this show. So whilst you might not recognise the faces, you’ll be well at home with the general shtick.

When thinking how best to sum it up, a phrase of Bob Mortimer’s wafted into mind. Daft laugh. And that’s really what to expect. Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a breakneck, insanely physical comedy dripping with brilliantly choreographed farce and slapstick, all delivered with split-second timing and unwavering chutzpah from a uniformly excellent cast. No need for a spoiler alert when I say that the play is beset by fudge-ups and quickly descends into incompetent farce. But as many have observed about Les Dawson’s off key piano playing, you’ve got to be very good to be able to do it so very badly.

No sooner had I ambled into the foyer with my Harvest Pale, than I was buttonholed by one of the cast enquiring if I’d seen a hammer. As we made our way to our seats the auditorium was abuzz with fourth-wall-breaking pre-show prep: stage hands and cast members making finishing touches to the set and relaying cabling from stage to sound desk, all the while co-opting audience members in to help. I enjoyed this playful, boisterous and rather fun opening salvo that set the tone for what was to follow.

The energy, physicality and comic timing of the cast were truly something to behold

The play sees the ‘Cornley Drama Society’ back onstage battling technical hitches, flying mishaps and cast disputes as they attempt to present J.M. Barrie’s much-loved tale. If you’ve seen any of the ‘Goes Wrong’ oeuvre then you’ll be familiar with the frequent set malfunctions, (deliberately) terrible acting, incompetent stage crew and an increasingly desperate and bewildered cast of ‘amateurs’ out of their depth and dragged against their will into hopeless farce. With hilarious consequences, I should add.

This show has some great gags. The headset worn by Dennis, a non-actor who didn’t know his lines, enabling crew to feed them to him (in amongst radio station interference). The skit with Mathew Howell as Peter Pan’s shadow, and Jake Burgam as Captain Hook descending into Stewart Lee levels of disdain as his pompous thespian pretentions battled the low-brow, panto energy of the audience. The energy, physicality and comic timing of the cast were truly something to behold, and the writing and staging are equally top drawer. 

It’s not fair to single people out of an incredible ensemble effort, but Jamie Birkett did a fabulously terrible job of quick costume changes as she juggled the parts of Mrs Darling and Annie the Maid. Think Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques on amphetamines. 

I have to say that I wasn’t rolling in the aisles like some, although I was amused and entertained throughout. It didn’t quite tickle my funny bone in the way that it clearly did for 95 per cent of the audience.

You might want to weigh this against two West-end runs and a four-month Broadway run, awards for ‘Best Unique Theatrical Experience’ and ‘Favourite New Play’, and an Olivier Award nomination for ‘Best New Comedy’. I say this because, although I didn’t love it, it’s clearly an exceptional, highly acclaimed piece of entertainment that 95 per cent of you will bloody love.

If you’re looking for a daft laugh, then this is definitely a night out you need.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong plays at the Theatre Royal from 11 October to 15 October 2023.

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