King’s Theatre, Edinburgh: Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 May 2015
To die, that would be an awfully big adventure. So said Peter Pan, but he might have been talking about mounting an ambitious Christmas show when you’re a bunch of hapless students.
Because the coffers of the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society have received a £40,000 boost courtesy of the uncle of one of its lesser members, Max, allowing them to stage their most ambitious production yet. Sadly for them – but happily for the opening night audience at the King’s Theatre – everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.
And a little more besides.
There are the sets that don’t do as they’re told. The actors who grandstand, or need a microphone feed to remember lines. Flying harnesses that threaten to kill… yes, we’re not so much in Never Never Land as Slapstick State, but if you’ve even a little bit of love for pratfalls, disappearing clothing and banana skins, Peter Pan Goes Wrong will have you whooping with laughter.
While I like a bit of Laurel and Hardy, and Buster Keaton, I had wondered how such gags could hold the attention for a couple of hours. But hold the attention they did and I could easily have sat through another few scenes.
That’s because – cue dramatic irony – the Mischief Theatre ensemble starring in this touring production are as talented as their polytechnic counterparts aren’t. Forget wind farms, if the Scottish Government could harness the energy of this lot we’d be set for decades.
building to several climaxes
After twisting the traditional scene-setting opening in the nursery of the Darling Family’s London home, things just get more and more frenetic, more and more frantic, building to several climaxes that must have the actors’ heads spinning as much as the set.
And a very clever set it is too, courtesy of Simon Scullion, a three-sided triumph representing Never Never Land, the aforementioned nursery and Captain Hook’s boat. The actors run in and out, up and down, fly over it, crash through it … It’s pretty much a character in itself and its smooth working is vital to the comedy.
As for the human characters – along with the odd crocodile and a dog – they’re hugely watchable, with especially fun performances from Leonie Hill as Sandra, who’s playing Wendy, and Laurence Pears as director Chris, essaying Mr Darling/Captain Hook. The former can’t stop showing her ballet steps and over-emoting, while the latter insists this Christmas show isn’t a panto. You can guess how the enthusiastic audience responded to that…
Chris Leask, as Trevor the offstage tech guy who’s onstage almost as much as the actors, deserves some kind of award for bravery, given the daring turn – literally – he puts in. Alex Bartram IS Jonathan IS Peter Pan, and a very good one he is too; not quite as creepy as JM Barrie’s original (the type of weirdo who’d turn up on Crimewatch these days) but far funnier, with his never-ending narcissistic nature.
There’s less self-regard from Matt Cavendish as Max, reduced to giving us his Nana the nursemaid dog and that ticking crocodile – he’s just pleased to be on the stage, but Cavendish’s subtle – seriously – performance won the audience’s collective hearts.
Cornelius Booth throws himself into his role as co-director Robert, pirate Starkey and substitute Michael, and a man who knows the erotic value of falafel, while Harry Kershaw is adorable as Francis the narrator and pirate Smee, never happier than when he’s tossing stardust around.
Naomi Sheldon shows immense versatility and dubious quick change skills as Annie, multi-tasking as Mrs Darling, Lisa the housekeeper, Tiger Lily and Tinker Bell. James Marlowe shows his finely honed skills as a physical comedian as Dennis, who gives us his John Darling and pirate Jukes. Then there’s Rosie Abraham as the unfortunate Lucy, whose role as Lost Boy Tootles puts her in a wheelchair and the audience in stitches.
It’s Lucy’s character who strikes the only off-note in the terrific script by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields and Jonathan Sayer, as they give her a ‘comedic’ stammer. And while it does lead to laughs – director Adam Meggido doesn’t miss a trick, even a dubious one – they are a tad painful.
But back to the well-deserved compliments: sharp understudies Laura Kirman and Fred Gray showed up regularly as backstage crew, while their real-life counterparts took a bow along with the actors – there’s no way a show this technically tricky would work without them.
Throw in a few rather clever songs, decidedly decent dancing and a super-satisfying conclusion and you have one of the funniest shows to visit Edinburgh in an age. Whatever the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society does next – and after a murder mystery in the Olivier award-winning The Play That Goes Wrong and a panto (oh yes it is!) here, perhaps some Shakespeare is on the cards – you can bet I’ll be there.
Running time: hours mins (including interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tuesday 5 – Saturday 9 May 2015
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat 9: 2.30 pm
Tickets and information from http://www.edtheatres.com/wrong
Peter Pan Goes Wrong on tour:
Tue 5 – Sat 9 May
0131 529 6000
Mon 11 – Sat 16 May
01603 63 00 00
Mon 18 – Sat 23 May
Mon 25 – Sat 30 May
01162 423 595
Mon 1 – Sat 6 Jun
Mon 8 – Sat 13 Jun
01793 524 481
Thu 18 – Sun 21 Jun
0844 848 2700
Wed 1 – Sat 4 Jul
08448 11 21 21
Mon 6 – Sat 11 Jul
0115 989 5555