In just a few years, Britain’s Mischief Theatre, originator of the “goes wrong” genre, has gone from playing fringe pub venues to being the toast of the West End and beyond.
What does that say about the zeitgeist? With all the stumbling and bumbling in public life and politics and our collapsing faith in institutions of all kinds, you’d think we’d be in the mood for something that actually went right for a change.
Sydney got its first taste of Mischief’s MO in 2017 with The Play That Went Wrong, a production – purportedly by the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society – of a cobwebbed Agatha Christie-style whodunit.
This piece brings the CPDS back together for a production of the J.M. Barrie classic Peter Pan. True to form, things couldn’t go more awry were Wyle E. Coyote in charge: stage effects malfunction; the revolving set is unsafe at any speed; the power grid is dicey; sound cues are on random play, and someone forgot to put the safety chain on a spotlight.
Worse still, personality issues are at play, with director Chris Bean (Connor Crawford) jostling for aesthetic control of the production with his hammy assistant Robert (Luke Joslin) and an emerging love triangle between Wendy Darling (Francine Cain), Peter Pan (Darcy Brown) and Max (Jordan Prosser), whose dad bankrolled the show.
Oh yes, and Dennis (George Kemp) needs a little help with his lines. In fact, he needs help with every line.
This is a world in which the simplest mishaps and misplacements snowball into mayhem and real life director Adam Meggido arranges the collapse of this house of cards with meticulous, split-second precision. The fast-spinning carousel of sight gags does wear thin after a while (this is a two-hour show), but the athleticism and comic timing of the cast is never less than impressive.
Joslin is very funny, with Robert’s stagey pomposity infecting every role he plays (even Peter’s detached shadow). Crawford is marvellously sharp, with Chris’s frustration bubbling through his portrayals of Mr Darling and Captain Hook.
Kemp has one joke to play over and over but he does it perfectly, delivering every line fed to him from offstage with the unbridled enthusiasm of Murray Walker calling the last lap of a Monaco Grand Prix. Tammy Weller shines as Annie, called on to play Mary Darling and the Darling’s maid in violently quick succession, and later Tinker Bell, who some bright spark (Adam Dunn’s Trevor, the stage manager) has seen fit to plug into the mains.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is no Noises Off. But it is broadly appealing, hilarious for anyone who can appreciate the funny side of people being whacked unconscious, having their clothes yanked off, or set on fire.