Thursday, February 7, 2019

Peter Pan Goes Wrong - Mischief Theatre

Canberra Theatre
7-10 February

Review by John Lombard

In J. M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan, the hero boasts that “to die would be an awfully big adventure”.

In Peter Pan Goes Wrong, delivering that line is only tempting fate.

This follow-up to The Play That Goes Wrong, directed by Adam Meggido, returns us to the stage of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, an amateur theatrical troupe with a vaulting ambition that inevitably crashes to earth.

This year the Drama Society is stumbling into a holiday performance of Peter Pan, a play that even without the Cornley Polytechnic touch is already synonymous with theatrical catastrophe.

The conceit of a Goes Wrong play is that everything that can go wrong will: lines are forgotten, props fail, and there is an impressive taxonomy of the many species of bad acting.

For anyone who has performed in amateur theatre, this is not comedy: this is gritty drama.

Peter Pan is an excellent, almost inevitable choice for a Goes Wrong play: you would need a heart of stone to not be amused at the thought of Peter Pan at the mercy of an enthusiastic but incompetent Flying Rig operator.

Matt Whitty takes on multiple roles as Mr. Darling, Captain Hook, and Cornley Polytechnic director Chris Bean. Whitty is so convincing as an auteur-egomaniac that audiences will be forgiven if they leave the show with the false impression that he actually was this production's director.

Luke Joslin is funny and sympathetic as “co-director” Robert, a big fish in a small pond willing to embrace endless indignities for any flicker of limelight.  Joslin's weary suffering is a particularly good foil for Whitty's braggadocio.

Darcy Brown undertakes death-defying stunts as a handsome but lascivious and deceitful Peter Pan. In deliberate contrast, Jordan Prosser as the humble crocodile charmed the audience with an innocent, gormless joy at being on stage.

Francine Cain deserves special mention for her Wendy, a part she plays with wild gestures too eccentric to even quality as overacting. Tammy Weller has impressive comic timing in four distinctive parts with whirlwind costume changes, but is best as a thuggish Tinkerbell.

Jay Laga’aia effortlessly charms as the narrator, and even treats us to a Play School singalong.

The comedy is generous, ripping up the track set down in Peter Pan with the chaotic mischief of writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields.

While Peter Pan Goes Wrong is very entertaining, it does highlight that the play's formula is easily transplantable. Can Shakespeare Goes Wrong be far off? Will we ever get to Brecht Goes Wrong, and see Brecht go off without a hitch?

The play mocks incompetent amateur theatre, in particular the vanity of performers, but the determination of the players to persevere against mounting odds becomes redeeming: no matter what, The Show Must Go On.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is an utter delight, one that not only delivers on the promise of catastrophe, but has a genuine theatrical magic.  By the end of the show we understand why, in defiance of fate, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society will no doubt be back at it again next year.