Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne – until 27 January 2019
Reversing the law of diminishing returns, Mischief Theatre’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong is actually funnier than the group’s mega-hit The Play That Goes Wrong, benefiting from the familiarity of much-loved source material, J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.
The well-intentioned thespians of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are back in action with their annual festive season pantomime production. A healthy donation from the uncle of vainglorious actor Max has allowed a bigger budget than last year’s Jack and the Bean. Before long, over-inflated egos, staggering ineptitude and sheer bad luck run the production right off the rails, to hilarious effect.
The brilliance of writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayers and Henry Shields is in their observation and depiction of theatrical “types”. The cast plays idiosyncratic members of the Drama Society who are playing the roles in Peter Pan. This not only gives the actors permission to be terribly “bad”, but also adds layer upon layer to the action as we learn more about the deluded ambitions and volatile love lives of the players.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong achieves the distinction of drawing loud guffaws from its very opening moments, scoring a fast rate of laughs that is maintained throughout its two-hour running time. Director Adam Meggido enhances the humour with the highly convincing reactions of the Drama Society members to the aspects that go wrong. There is uptight director/actor Chris Bean who cannot cope with change, hapless Dennis whose lines are fed to him by headset, pompous assistant co-director/actor Robert who would happily play all the roles himself, terrified youngster Lucy who has been pushed to the stage by her uncle Robert, hyperactive ingénue Sandra who seems to have learnt her acting skills as ballet-level mime, and the list goes on.
In a very meta aspect, Luke Joslin plays co-director/actor Robert Grove in Peter Pan and is also resident director/actor for Peter Pan Goes Wrong.
Another highlight of the direction and performances is the rather incredible stunt work, most of which would surely be performed by stunt doubles in a movie.
Simon Scullion’s set design looks deceptively like a simple pantomime setting and yet contains myriad tricks and traps. Housed on a revolve, which has a mind of its own at inopportune times, the set adds greatly to the humour.
Further visual humour come from Melbourne’s own Roberto Surace (a 2017 Tony nominee!), who delivers his special brand of quirky, colourful costumes. Surace again achieves the very look that a well-intentioned Drama Society of limited resources would put together. The motley crew of pirates covers every degree of stereotyped pirate that ever sailed the seven seas. Further highlights include Peter Pan’s deftly deconstructed green outfit, Tinkerbell’s impractically electrified fairy tutu and Michael Darling’s adorable pink onesie.
The original lighting design of Matt Haskins has been re-staged to great effect by associate lighting designer Jason Bovaird. For a show with this many gags involving lights, the design and execution are crucial, and Bovaird delivers attractive visuals and split second timing with great flair. Ella Wahlström’s sound design adds further humour, with daffy running gags, misplaced cues and backstage secrets that were never meant to be heard.
For a show that pokes such fun at the backstage crew, it must be noted that the frantic pace and all manner of potential physical dangers are in excellent hands under stage manager Stef Lindwall and her hardy crew.
Each of the ten cast members is wonderfully suited to their role(s), also impressing with their stunt work, singing and dancing.
Connor Crawford captures Chris Bean’s frigid conceit so well that we cannot help but laugh as Chris’ portrayals of George Darling and Captain Hook land him in constant physical danger.
Luke Joslin is arguably Australia’s best proponent of the Mischief Theatre style and it is most fitting that he is resident director for this tour. Robert’s unbridled pomposity drives much of the humour, and Joslin ensures that Robert’s true nature is never far below the character’s portrayal of Nana the dog and Starkey the unintelligible pirate. Joslin’s performance of Robert’s take on the interpretive dance style of Peter Pan’s Shadow is priceless.
Francine Cain throws herself into Sandra’s hyperactive gesturing as Wendy Darling, successfully overacting the role in a style that is all too familiar.
Although nimble acrobat Darcy Brown is ostensibly playing the hero, his character Jonathan’s exposure as a lothario brings on the rare instance of an audience booing Peter Pan.
Tammy Weller brings an air good cheer to the plucky Annie, who juggles fast changes between Mary Darling and Darling maid Lisa, later playing both Tiger Lily and the ever sprightly Tinker Bell.
Jordan Prosser ably conveys Max’s tendency to frequently break character and simply grin endearingly at the audience. Unlucky in love, dissed as a bad actor and saddled with playing the crocodile (as well as Michael Darling), Prosser’s Max ends up receiving an outpouring of audience love.
George Kemp is devilishly good as Dennis (who is far too old to be playing John Darling), making Dennis’ naïve, monotone recitation of every word he hears in his headset totally believable.
Jay Laga’aia utilises his winning stage persona to play a Storyteller who is the antithesis of the surly narrator found in Rocky Horror Show.
Adam Dunn convinces as floundering, flustered stage manager Trevor, proving a good sport when suspended upside down with his butt hanging out, all in the name of humour.
Teagan Wouter’s turn as meek newcomer Lucy (Tootles) is all the funnier knowing what a powerhouse belter Wouters is as a singer.
With physical humour, highbrow theatrical humour, lowbrow theatrical humour, musical theatre moments, live stunts and more, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is highly recommended for fun-loving families of all ages.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong plays at Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne until 27 January 2019, before touring to Brisbane, Canberra, Sydney and Perth.