Despite all of the clowning around and the hazardous physicality of the performance, it is more than Magical Fairy Dust that turns this confused version of a classic tale into something extremely entertaining.
Writers’ Lewis, Sayer and Shields, from the comedy theatre company – Mischief Theatre, have skilfully scripted this piece, but I think their vision for it must have been crystal clear from the start. The talented cast play members of the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, plus its stage manager and assistants, who have put on and are performing an amateur production of Peter Pan.
Technical hitches happen and there is much fixing and maintenance going on in the ‘background’. The humour of it is that we are not meant to worry about the accidents. Furniture and scenery randomly collapses and there’s a few mini explosions from faulty electrics. The mishandling and poor function of the props causes pain, distress, and sometimes unconsciousness for the performers; but for art’s sake they struggle to keep the show on course, only to finally abandon their efforts and a scene of chaos ensues at the end.
Many things about the bare bone operations of this play helps in keeping that comedy edge and I have to move through the structural layers to demonstrate my meaning:
Firstly, it is not just the auditorium presence of some cast members (in character) prior to the start of the show, but also Naomi Sheldon’s multiple role playing and Chris Leask’s style of trouser wearing that makes you chuckle. Harry Kershaw gets my vote of being the comic actor that is the most eye drawing, Kershaw plays Francis, and then as Francis he plays Narrator and Mr Smee – I admire the work of everyone involved in this production, but I especially enjoyed Kershaw’s input.
Also amusing, is the unusual middle man/woman structure of this play which means we get an echo of the familiar. We enjoy witnessing the squabbles over directorship between the highly strung and pompous, Chris Bean (Laurence Pears) and Robert Grove (Cornelius Booth), and we learn that it is not necessarily the acting skills of Sandra (Leonie Hill) that is drawing the attention of a couple of her male performing partners, but more likely her pouting and posing abilities.
Lastly, we are presented with extreme or changed versions of J M Barrie’s own famous characters and settings. Peter Pan (Alex Bartram) for example, has an ego, and the glow in the dark style of puppetry takes up the comedy reigns for those outdoor, underwater and surface water scenes, that would be hard to deliver otherwise.
I have seen one or two stage comedy ‘send ups’, but I laughed the loudest and for the longest time, last night. This is such a masterful all round theatrical performance and if you wish to dispel the winter blues this show is just the tonic.
Suitable from 7 years to adult.
Photography by Alastair Muir
Feature image above – from left to right – James Marlowe as Bill Jukes, Naomi Sheldon as Tiger Lily, Cornelius Booth as Starkey, and Harry Kershaw as Mr Smee
Reviewer, Debra Hall attended press night of Peter Pan Goes Wrong at The Birmingham Repertory Theatre on Tuesday 27 January 2015. This review is also published at Remotegoat
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