The Mischief Theatre production of Peter Pan Goes Wrong brings all the right moves in a festive romp of fun and mishap. Don’t let the title fool you, this brilliantly written and directed production has little to do with the iconic character and everything to do with an intricately cohesive ensemble cast delivering unexpected laughs and mayhem.
Mischief Theatre is the brain-child of award-winning writers Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields and Henry Lewis. The trio met while students of The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and, after several years of working in comedy together, the writing team delivered their first piece: The Play That Goes Wrong. This became an international hit and is still running on the West End and Broadway. Their follow-up piece, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, opened in 2014 and has been received in the UK with similar success. This production’s creative team, including Director Adam Meggido and Set Designer Simon Scullion, all hail from the UK.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a trifecta of clever writing, intricate directing, and talented actors who cleverly play off their audience. In many ways, it is is an actor’s play, showcasing all the havoc and melodrama associated with a play — both on and off stage. Meggido’s direction takes physical comedy to its limits, reinvigorating traditional slapstick. You know the actors are going to slip on the proverbial banana peel, but the gag still finds a way to surprise. And by constantly weaving in variations on previous jokes, the Mischief Theatre writing team delight us with the tension between the novel and the familiar. The play culminates at the end of Act 2 with a rotating set delivering choreographed chaos at a level of perfection rarely seen on stage. The challenge of successfully executing such organized pandemonium is a testament to the skill of cast and crew.
The creative camp throughout the play is realized by an adroit Australian cast peppered with recognizable seasoned actors and new faces. The actors have fine-tuned the art of reading the crowd and engaging in audience participation without being awkward or unkind. Francine Cain shines in the role of Wendy Darling, bringing extra sizzle to an ingénue role that often falls flat from actors who “play it safe”. Cain takes bold risks and embraces her strengths which apparently include alluring calisthenic dance. Another standout actor is Conner Crawford in the roles of Captain Hook and Mr. Darling. Audiences might recognize him from the second season of Glitch and The Doctor Blake Mysteries. Crawford is charismatic and has impeccable timing as a comedic actor. Luke Joslin plays several characters including Nana the Dog; Starkey the Pirate; and, most notably, as Peter’s Shadow, highlighting his talent for interpretive dance in a “sexy” black unitard. Actress Tammy Weller features her versatility in multiple roles including a mute Tinkerbell, a confused Tiger Lily, a maternal Mrs. Darling, and Lisa the Maid with more costume changes than I thought humanly possible.
Jordan Prosser and Darcy Brown successfully duel over the role of Peter Pan and Wendy’s affection, while actor George Kemp brings some unexpected character development to the role of John Darling and Smee the Pirate. Adam Dunn as Trevor the Stage Hand and actress Teagan Wouters as Lucy both take physical comedy to its outer limits. Matt Whitty and Jessie Yates round out the cast with their reliable performances as Assistant Stage Managers, Understudies and audience rabble-rousers. Also, not to be forgotten, New Zealand entertainer and actor Jay Laga’aia delivers as a humorous Narrator and Pirate. My 8-year-old son, who attended the performance with me, recognized Laga’aia from his years on Playschool.
I was not initially sure whether Peter Pan Goes Wrong would be appropriate for my young son or if he would understand the jokes. Yet there were several young children in the audience all of whom, including my son, were laughing throughout the show. Peter Pan is, after all, “the boy who never grows up”, and this production embraces the inner child in us all without being crude or distasteful. The writing is sophisticated yet still allows us to be children again. Knowing that Mr. Darling is going to slip on that banana peel and Captain Hook is going to fall on his sword does not stop us all from laughing together in this first-class production with universal appeal.
Reviewer Paris Wages saw PETER PAN GOES WRONG at the Melbourne Arts Centre on 20 December. The production runs through 27 January 2019.