Review by Daz Gale
There’s nothing like a bit of Mischief when it comes to Christmas. I’m not referring to swapping Grandma’s sherry for absinthe, I of course mean Mischief Comedy, the geniuses behind West End megahit The Play That Goes Wrong and the much-loved TV series The Goes Wrong Show, Their festive (definitely not a pantomime) favourite Peter Pan Goes Wrong is now back in the West End for the first time in 6 years but would audiences love it just as much as they did before we had a full blown Peter pandemic?
Following the award-winning formula of The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong sees the members of the Cornley Drama Society attempting to stage another show, despite their previous attempts not quite going to plan. Obviously nothing will go wrong with this year’s festive production – a presentation of J.M Barrie’s much-loved classic Peter Pan. Well, the clue is in the title, and as the hard-working members of the society attempt to live by the mantra “the show must go on” even when pushed to the very limits, the story tends to get lost at sea.
As a concept, Mischief Comedy have struck gold with a treasure chest of material available to them. Combining slapstick and farce, the entire Goes Wrong brand has provided a breath of fresh air to the theatre industry with its centrepiece The Play That Goes Wrong proving to be unstoppable. The writers of this show, Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, are true masters of their craft with no shortage of ideas to play with as they get creative to ensure anything that can go wrong does… sometimes in unexpected ways. The characters that are written to form the Cornley Society are also brilliantly thought out so that when they are characters playing other characters, they never lose their essence whether it be crippling stage fright or the inability to learn any lines in a fabulously multifaceted bit of writing.
It is the mix of the trio’s writing combined with the inspired direction from Adam Meggido that allows all of the chaos to play out with such precision. While the whole concept is centred around things going wrong, in actual fact, every element has to go according to plan to pull this off, with so many necessary intricacies to allow each visual gag to play out. Think of all of the elaborate traps Macauley Culkin sets up in the Home Alone movies and then put that on a West End stage – that is essentially how a lot of these gags pay off. Such is the nature of the show though that even if something doesn’t go completely as it meant, the brilliant cast are able to use this in the material as it so effortlessly ties in to the show itself. Without spoiling any of the reveals of the show, there’s a great gasp-inducing prop reveal involving the Darling children’s triple bunk beds and a truly inspired moment when the three children all attempt to fly that left me howling with laughter. Credit also has to go to Simon Scullion for his fantastic set design allowing so much to fall apart and hiding so many hilarious tricks along the way.
This production boasts a number of Mischief Comedy’s alumni who travel around with their various shows as well as some newcomers to the cast. Charlie Russell is amazingly dominating in her role as Sandra (Wendy Darling) and Chris Leask gets some scene-stealing moments and reveals a bit too much at times in the now iconic role of Trevor. It is recurring Mischief favourite Nancy Zamit who truly impresses as “Annie” who gets to play Mrs Darling, Lisa and Tinker Bell – three very different roles which often require outfit changes in a way that defies the laws of what is humanly possible. In a physically demanding role, she wows at every turn with an unrivalled knack for comic timing.
Matthew Cavendish charms as the sweet-natured and eager Max, particularly pleasing in the now increased role of The Crocodile, while Clark Devlin gets one of the more memorable characters as Dennis, the poor cast member who requires state of the art technology to remember his lines… to consistently hilarious results. The common theme throughout the cast is the ability to underact or overact depending on the necessities of their character which requires extremely nuanced acting in itself. Dennis is a great example of this with his less than award-winning delivery of lines a testament to Clark’s own skills as an actor himself. In a very different role to the others, Jean-Luke Worrell gets some scene-stealing moments in an increasingly extreme number of sequences as the Narrator, including a rather unexpected inclusion of a musical theatre classic.
While Greg Tannahill delights in his turn as Max who gets to don the green tights to play the titular character, it isn’t necessarily the Peter Pan as the action is regularly dominated by Harry Kershaw as Chris Bean who gets to play Captain Hook. With Chris being the director of Peter Pan, he finds himself front and centre (as all director’s should be obviously) to try and navigate the increasing madness that is their disastrous production. Anyone who has seen any Goes Wrong show will know how integral Chris Bean is to the Cornley Drama Society in a truly hilarious comic creation. Harry Kershaw channels that brilliantly in this production, at times evoking Basil Fawlty as he takes his frustration out on not just his fellow cast members but the audience as well.
It’s Chris’ hatred for pantos that allows for the most hilarious moments and God help any audience members that attempts to heckle him with a classic panto trope. While the show may be heavily scripted, there is an allowance for a bit of spontaneity and improve which on the form of this special gala performance allowed for one of the funniest lines of the night where Chris screamed at the audience that he had given them a red carpet that night but he had “not seen a single celebrity, just reviewers and TikTokers” – the irony of me writing that line down in my little reviewer notebook was not lost on me! The inclusion of a new reference to Nicole Scherzinger in Sunset Boulevard in the same sequence also brought the house down… though not in the way many props on stage were brought down.
It is no wonder several of Mischief Comedy shows have gone on to do so well and be brought back time and time again. It may have been a good few years since Peter Pan Goes Wrong lit up Shaftesbury Avenue but sitting in the theatre watching all of the chaos unfold made it seem like no time has past at all. Some people may prefer to watch a classic and safe festive story on stage at this time of year while others may love a good old fashioned pantomime (not Chris Bean obviously) but there is something comforting about a dose of Mischief at this time of year. Fabulously inventive and wickedly funny, this iteration of Peter Pan Goes Wrong is expertly performed by a phenomenally talented cast in a production that goes very right indeed. Peter Pan may struggle to fly in this production, but the show itself absolutely soars.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong plays the Lyric Theatre until 14th January 2024 before continuing to tour the UK. Dates and tickets at www.mischiefcomedy.com
Photos by Pamela Raith