The team behind The Play That Goes Wrong have created a sequel of sorts to their gloriously silly story of a bunch of endlessly hapless amateur thespians, as this time they stage that most wonderful of British institutions, the Christmas pantomime. Although ‘director’ Chris Bean (Connor Crawford) would beg to differ as he tries to bring serious dramatic sensibilities to his ill-fated production of ‘Peter Pan’, this is hilariously fun family fare that once again lives up to the promise of its name.
The members of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are still a ramshackle crew, having improved little in their stagecraft since their disastrous production of ‘The Murder at Haversham Manor’. This time though, thanks to the financial contributions of their ‘Michael Darling’ and ‘Crocodile’, the lovable Max (Jordan Prosser), they’ve been able to upgrade the standard of their sets, costumes and technical trickery. If only anyone in the cast or crew of the society had the slightest idea of how to put on a show without insult, injury or embarrassment!
Chris’ assistant director – or is that co-director? – Robert (Luke Joslin) has pre-recorded all the sound effects, while taking advantage of the studio time to record a plethora of voiceover audition tapes, which are bound for disaster based on the non-existent technical skills of the crew. His accident-prone niece Lucy (Teagan Wouters) has such debilitating stage fright her role of ‘Tootles’ has devolved into barely audible squeaks. While the talentless Dennis Tyde (George Kemp) can’t remember a single line without being prompted through the world’s most conspicuous headphones, yet has inexplicably been given the dual roles of both ‘John Darling’ and ‘Smee’.
To top things off Jonathan (Darcy Brown) and Sandra (Francine Cain) – otherwise known as Peter Pan and Wendy – are having an indiscreet affair, while Max pines unrequitedly over Sandra and Jonathan’s wandering eyes land on Tinkerbell, played by Annie (Tammy Weller). It’s a truly bizarre love quadrangle.
As I noted in my review of The Play That Goes Wrong, anyone who has ever been involved with an amateur theatre production will be able to recognise at least one of the scenarios at play here. Whether it’s the set falling apart, an actor who can’t remember their lines or even worse, getting injured on stage, we’ve all been there and seen that, making it all the more relatable and funny.
This time around, with the added benefit of the show that goes wrong being a pantomime, not only do families have the joy of sharing the pratfalls of a bunch of calamitous actors and crew, but they also get to interact with them, yelling out the classic “behind you” and “oh yes he is” responses with gusto. On opening night, reactions from the audience practically became another ‘actor’ in the show, but it didn’t put off this cast of – in reality – absolute professionals. The wonderful team take audience interaction in their stride, playing up to it with great effect.
There is a large requirement for suspension of disbelief, but the utter silliness of this story is easily embraced and certainly younger audience members lap it up with glee. Recommended for audiences 6-years and up, it is worth noting that this production does contain quite a lot of violence, if mostly of the comic kind. Be aware there’s bloodless stabbing and electrocution shown on stage, so be prepared if you don’t want things copied at home, along with rather more innocent – and hilarious – bum crack flashing!
Simon Scullion’s set design is, as per its progenitor, deceptively intricate and spectacular, while looking appropriately ‘am-dram’. Not quite as mechanically astonishing as Nigel Hook’s work for The Play That Goes Wrong but just as full of tricks and surprises that thrill the audience. However, be careful not to buy a program until interval or after the show as there are photographic spoilers contained therein. Although this is a British production, the delightful – and funny – costumes are by ‘Melbourne-boy-done-good-in-London’, Roberto Surace. Sound design by Ella Wahlström is intricate and seamlessly interwoven, while sounding as though it’s anything but skilfully executed. Thankfully, the cast all have body mics, as opposed to the situation with their previous show, so there’s no straining to hear the dialogue in this production.
Every member of the ensemble cast acquit themselves magnificently and must be exhausted after the highly physical manoeuvres and choreography they execute. Including all the dodgy wirework, you’d expect from a show with this title. Both Darcy Brown as Peter Pan and Adam Dunn as his fill-in Trevor perform some spectacular aerial work. It’s wonderful to see so many of the cast of last year’s production of The Play That Goes Wrong return to reprise their roles, adding extra depth for those that have seen both shows, however it’s not necessary to have seen that production to have fun with this one. The familiar face of Jay Laga’aia in the role of Francis, the Narrator is also warmly welcomed and provides a theatrical presence of both seniority and child-like fun. While the law of diminishing returns does apply to Peter Pan Goes Wrong – it’s not as fresh as its predecessor and it runs out of steam a bit in the second act – it is still fantastic fun.
Being perfectly timed for the festive season in Melbourne, this is a highly recommended night (or day) out for the family in this time of joy and togetherness, and British ex-pats will especially find it fondly familiar. Forget the cricket, and the beach, and the Boxing Day sales and go enjoy a different Christmas tradition in air-conditioned comfort!
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is now playing at the Playhouse at Arts Centre, Melbourne before touring to Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney and Perth.
For more information and tickets: https://peterpangoeswrong.com.au/