The night before going to Peter Pan Goes Wrong, I had the misfortune to drop into the Southwark Playhouse’s Jack and the Beanstalk. It said it involved squirting cows and Mexican jumping beans, but what it didn’t make clear was that only the second half was going to be the actual panto – the first half was all the actors talking about the panto they were going to do, while acting like an outtake from a Three Stooges reel – bopping each other, taking pratfalls, pouring paint down each other’s backs. Supposedly all of this was because they were not yet ready to do their panto but, in fact, this was part of their panto, and it was boring. Panto is supposed to be for the whole family but I couldn’t see how this dull thing could be appreciated by anyone over the age of ten – I mean, forget slipping in political jokes, it was just so juvenile and dull that I was considering trampling the bored 7 year olds in the front row to make my way to an exit before the interval ever rolled around. Only thirty minutes and yet it seemed at least an hour fifteen! Consider me terrified as I sat down at the Pleasance and realized I was about to watch another show that was, essentially, a panto where people hadn’t got their act together. GOOD GOD WAS THIS REALLY GROUNDHOG DAY?
Okay, well, I didn’t feel that way beforehand – I was all excited because I had been comped in as part of a “tweet up” and I actually had had a really good time at their previous show, The Play That Goes Wrong. But it’s a tricky thing to do a play about people making mistakes that doesn’t actually just feel sloppy (as I had been reminded the night before) – it takes really tight timing, impeccable stagehanding, and the perfect light touch of comedic acting, with a connection like adamant chains between the actors and a constant awareness of the audience’s mood.
So: the concept of Peter Pan Goes Wrong is that the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society is doing Peter Pan, with certain limitations due to their Lost Boys having all been in an accident. This is explained to us before the show by the director, with additional flourishes by the codirector, who makes it clear that all of CPDS’s shows have been fraught with misfortune. The list is long, there were “comic” (read: irritating and, to me, forced) interruptions by gurning cast members, and the two of them start bickering. I think it was sometime during this bit when I began to wonder if this really was a play that was going to go very wrong as I was finding it tedious.
Thus when they finally started the play proper, I found absolutely nothing the least bit funny. Ooh, the nursery door won’t open, ooh, everyone acts like cardboard cutouts, ooh they’re having to “pretend” the scissors are a spoon, could it be any more forced.
Then something happened that completely surprised me. The look of shock on the affected actress’ face was wholly believable. Suddenly, I was sucked in. The mucked up sound cues, the stuttering Lost Boy, the mid-show replacement for Peter Pan … I bought it all, even the resurrection of Tinkerbell. Never has a revolve stage been used to such perfect effect, not even in His Dark Materials (may the NT take note). I was laughing at a pitch only audible to dogs.
In short, it was great, both faithful to the source material and a fine work of comedy. Truth be told, it’s funnier than many of the actual pantos out there right now – the only one I had more fun at was Cinderfella. Be grateful this is being done at the big space at the Pleasance, so there’s far more room than there was when I saw this company at Traf 2: go, go now, and go often.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, December 12th, 2013. It continues through January 5th.)