Peter Pan Goes Wrong Review – ‘A roaring success’
June 26, 2015
[All images credited to Alastair Muir]
For four fleeting nights, the Leeds Grand Theatre suspended its usual programme of nationally and internationally renowned companies and productions to make way for the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s (belated) Christmas ‘vignette’, J. M. Barrie’s classic children’s tale of Peter Pan.
This long-beloved story is a gentle fable of innocence and fantasy, and has touched hearts with its delicate sprinkling of fairydust for generations. This production? Not so much. Catastrophe followed calamity as the cast and crew (often quite literally) blundered through the story, rendering the plot barely recognisable and the whole charade reduced to a farce. Chris Bean’s Captain Hook was a perfect pantomime villain (a compliment for some, but I suspect not for this ‘artiste’) when not giving into narcissism, and Jonathon Harris’ thigh slapping antics as Peter Pan failed to persuade me of his eternal boyhood. Wendy (played by Sandra Wilkinson) was a perfect example of the nation’s fear of increasingly sexualised children, highkicking and bootyshaking wherever she felt she could get away with it, her innocence disintegrating as soon as she left her parents’ home. The pirates ranged from unintelligible to unconvincing, and as for John and Michael… I’m not sure Robert Grove has ever met a child. Annie Twilloil (Mary Darling, Tinkerbell and a few others) and Francis Beaumont (Narrator and Mr Smee) did their best to hold their own, but they were fighting a losing battle. The one shining light in this debacle was Max Bennet, whose characterisation of both Nana the Dog and The Crocodile was flawless; his is a talent clearly wasted in the narrow confines of Cornley.
The chaos taking place on stage was only worsened by the activity of the backstage crew. Technical malfunctions that pushed health and safety to its very limits, unstable scenery and far too many builders’ bums (a good crew member is seen and not heard, and a lot of what was visible was definitely unwarranted) only exacerbated the overwhelming inadequacy of this performance. Do not make a Cornley Polytechnic performance your Scout group Christmas outing.
Of course, Leeds Grand Theatre would never really open its doors to a company of such excessive ineptitude. What this was, in fact, was a splendid send-up of all things Am Dram, and it was a roaring success. I had tears of laughter running down my face from curtain open to curtain close, something that hasn’t happened since seeing Stephen Mangan and Matthew Mcfadyan as Jeeves and Wooster. For an outsider, this production may appear overly slapstick and hammy, but I think for anyone who has trodden the boards at their local school or village hall, it was a delight. Everyone was there: the passionate director, desperate to create a piece of serious art when all around him are just in it for a laugh; the leading lady who really would rather be a dancer, developpé-ing and twirling at every opportunity (that one in particular strikes a chord…); the kid who really isn’t any good at all, but who brings with him a large donation to the company funds… I could go on.
Even the ‘crew’ were in on the action, desperately trying to fix major technical hitches as unsubtly as possible, and drawn in as last-minute understudies when the worst happens and an ambulance has to be called. The immersive experience went so far as to produce a programme that I could have printed at home, full of typos and village notices. It never went so far as to genuinely look amateurish, however, and the sets and costumes were superb (it was easy to see where Max’s uncle’s money had gone!) All in all it was a fabulous piece of comedy, directed by Adam Meggido, with a hugely enthusiastic response from the audience. Sadly, the tour appears to have ended, but The Play That Goes Wrong (which I’m sure is just as amusing) will be running at the Duchess Theatre, London from 5th September.