Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Review – Leeds Grand

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Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Review

Leeds Grand Theatre, June 2015

by Sandra Callard

A follow-up production by Mischief Theatre to the hugely successful The Play That Goes Wrong, which won numerous awards when it appeared in London’s West End, and is now showing at The Grand in Leeds. Peter Pan Goes Wrong is on a nationwide tour and hoping to emulate the success of the previous production.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Dress RehearsalThe play does exactly as the title suggests, as Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s ham-fisted attempts to present Peter Pan result in shambolic chaos. The scene is set as the audience enters, where stage members wander around the auditorium shouting instructions, climbing over seats and complaining that they can’t get through as ‘there are too many people coming in’.

Alex Bartram plays Jonathan, who plays the eponymous hero with an exaggerated sense of his own very inferior importance. His flying is a dream, as he soars out of sight on occasion and crashes alarmingly.

The whole cast is involved throughout in dangerous-seeming escapades of collapsing scenery and exploding electrics. How they manage to get a triple decker bunk bed collapsing in segments, thus trapping its three occupants inside, without serious injury, is a moment of wonder.

Matt Cavendish, who plays Max Bennet, who plays Nana the Dog and the Crocodile, is outstanding, and wins the sympathy of the audience instantly. He comes in through the dog flap as Nana, but cannot get out again, as the door only opens one way. His hang-dog expression is superb, and he immediately has the audience on his side.

“Element of surprise”

Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Dress RehearsalThe real hero of the cast is Naomi Sheldon, who plays Annie Twilloil, Mrs Darling, Lisa the Maid, Tinker Bell, Cecco the Pirate and Tiger Lily, with a gradual chaotic weariness which is probably more real than performance. The whole cast is committed, energetic and fool-hardy to risk life and limb in this way. But this, of course, is the theme of the play within a play.

There were many children in the mid-week audience. They clearly enjoyed the stunts and the mayhem, as did most of the audience, judging from the laughter. But for me it was too relentless. There was little more than a minute or two before the next collapse, fall or explosion. It became a little too predictable.

This is a shame because the work and design that must have gone into the stunts is laudatory. It needed split second timing as well as skill in engineering, carpentry and electronics. It had all this but still fell short on its spontaneous slapstick. That particular brand of comedy is an art in itself. True exponents of it, such as Laurel and Hardy, never lose the element of surprise.

To finish on a high note, the programme that goes with the show is fantastic. A section of it is ‘written’ by the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society and is an absolute hoot. It’s worth going just to read it!

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