The sold-out audience was roaring with laughter right from the start of the first night of Peter Pan Goes Wrong at the New Victoria theatre in Woking on Tuesday night. To be strictly accurate, mirth was abundant even before the start, as the ‘stage crew’ fumbled with hammers, faulty electrics and cabling, and cast members got among us with balloons and birthday tricks.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong, written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, and directed by Adam Meggido, is now part of a recent success story of a genre of shows that they have created, in which a collision of calamities beset an am-dram outfit – the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society – that really should never have been allowed near a stage. There is even a TV sit-com version, The Goes Wrong Show, although that is an amusing but pale imitation of the theatrical real thing.
With collapsing props and injuries aplenty, never has the term ‘Safety Curtain’ been more accurately applied. There was full audience enthusiasm and participation, perhaps assisted at times by a few ‘plants’, but often not, I suspect.
It would be wrong of me to spoil the fun by listing some of the things that do go wrong. Not only that, you never know with this kind of show whether every incident or accident is actually in the script or not. How often are the cast members really nursing injuries? On Tuesday night there were some significant cast changes – Christian James deputised as Jonathan, who plays Peter Pan; Tom Babbage stepped up from Michael Darling and the Crocodile to play Mr Darling and Captain Hook; Fred Gray filled his shoes as the hapless but loveable Max (Michael Darling); and understudy Ava Pickett made her debut as a stage crew member who is forced to deputise for Peter Pan during the show and finds herself dangling upside down. Confused? You should be. The fake cast biogs in the programme only add to the fun.
All performed with aplomb, including Katy Daghorn, playing Sandra playing Wendy, pouting and prancing around the stage, and providing the sex appeal. Oliver Senton as Robert (the ‘assistant’ director, Nana the dog, Peter’s shadow, and the incomprehensible pirate Starkey) attempted to gloss over the mishaps; Romayne Andrews was Dennis, faithfully relaying prompts, stage directions and insults on his radio mic in his various roles of John Darling, a mermaid, and pirate Smee. Phoebe Ellabani (Annie) performed miracles in her rapid changes between Mrs Darling and housemaid Lisa, as well as Tinker Bell and Tiger Lily; Patrick Warner as Francis took a succession of tumbles as the Narrator, and also played the Latin pirate Cecco. Lucy Bradley playing the limping, long-suffering Lucy playing Tootles certainly deserves a mention, too. Her character suffers from paralysing stagefright – and it turns out that she has every reason to.
To succeed in this kind of enterprise the timing has to be crucial, and it almost always was. The climax of the performance involves a madcap succession of revolving stage sets, and if momentum was lost at any point, it might have been here. A bit. However, my wife, a veteran am-dram performer of 20 years, was laughing throughout. (We first saw the show a few years ago in the West End).
So if you want a rollicking good evening’s entertainment, you simply can’t, er … go wrong. With this show, it is never all right on the night.
[Greg Freeman January 2020]
Peter Pan Goes Wrong continues at the New Victoria theatre in Woking from Wednesday 15 January to Saturday 18 January, with matinees on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday