A truly awful big adventure

peter pan cast members

No expense spared on props: James Marlowe as Bill Jukes, Naomi Sheldon as Tiger Lily, Cornelius Booth as Starkey and Harry Kershaw as Mr Smee Pictures: Alastair Muir

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Birmingham Rep

****

TO say The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society are bad would be a bit like saying King Herod had one or two minor issues as a child minder.

They give terrible a bad name; they are hopelessly, gloriously, hilariously, uproariously inept, turning incompetence into an art form.

Yet the mayhem and madness disguises some sublime comic skills. Comedy, at least intentional comedy, depends upon timing, and it is impeccable.

Peter Pan is not as sophisticated (not a word you would normally associate, or indeed let anywhere near Mischief Theatre) as their first presentation, The Play That Goes Wrong, a spoof on the country house murder mystery, which managed to cram in just about every cock-up ever suffered by amateur – and some professional – companies, and then find some more.

Instead Peter Pan is more visual, old fashioned slapstick with (despite the protestations to the contrary by Captain Hook) panto thrown in. (Oh yes it is!!! Oh No it isn’t etc. for several pages). But what’s wrong with that? There is nothing quite as satisfying as the sound of an audience roaring with laughter, people enjoying themselves with not a care in the world, and with Mischief Theatre laughter there is a plenty along with audience participation

There are a few instances of things that, really, don’t quite work but in a two hour show the dull spots are few and far between as the cast and crew wreck the script, the sets and each other in relentless pandemonium - and it is all done without any hint of smut or double entendre. Just pure, daft, manic fun.

Amid scenery that collapses a revolving stage that . . . well, revolves . . . and revolves, and revolves . . . we have a cast who put the ‘am in amateur. There is poor old Max Bennett who plays Nana the dog, the crocodile and, for an instant Peter Pan. He is played by Matt Cavendish. You will need to read the programme to find out why it is Max rather than Nadia, the 10 foot real Nile croc we had been promised.

Then there is Annie Twilloil who plays, at times in breakneck succession, the mother, Mary Darling, Lisa the maid, Tinkerbell, the fairy, Tiger Lily the Indian and Cecco the pirate, Captain Hookwho with clever and thoughtful scriptwriting, can easily all be in the same scene within seconds of each other.

Annie is played by Naomi Sheldon, the play within a play format allowing a two for one programme.

The first half is a very funny programme send up with spoof resumes of the amateur poly cast, interviews and useful (?) tips and explanations, while the pages of the second half are the more boring real bits about who is really responsible.

Laurence Pears as Captain James Hook discovers hooks are not ideal for opening bottles . . . oh yes he does . . .

Hidden towards the front for example, is an appeal for a flying operator, with the job being taken up on the night by someone with no experience as can be seen by Peter Pan, and indeed anyone else hooked up to flying wires, being turned into a human wrecking ball.

Pan, played by Jonathan Harris, aka Alex Bartram, only has one part to play, but as he is rendered unconscious in act one that is perhaps just as well.

 Perhaps we knew this might be a fraught evening when it was announced that due to the indisposition of Ben McIntyre from the Youth Theatre – he was lost in the forest in a Lord of the Flies exercise – the part of young son Michael Darling would be taken by the bald and bearded mature, even by mature student status, Robert Grove, the co/assistant (sort it out among ourselves gents) director. The director being the ultra-pompous Chris Bean who plays the father, George Darling and Captain Hook. He is played in turn by Laurence Pears - the real director is Adam Meggido by the way.

Grove, in reality Cornelius Booth, also plays the parrotted pirate Starkey who speaks fluent gibberish with a West Country accent.

Then we have the stage manager and assistants, led by Trevor Watson (Chris Leask) and presumable, the understudies, Fred Gray and Laura Kirman, who try to keep things going despite every disaster known to man.

It is not helped by coffee being spilt over the fx desk which gives intermittent taxi horns, radio and police broadcasts, sound effects and explosions, and some strange lines of dialogue - Dennis Tyde, played by James Marlowe, has  to wear an earpiece for cues as he cannot remember lines, so says whatever he hears, “officer down, shots fired”. He plays the Darling’s other son John as well as pirate Bill Jukes.

Completing the cast we have Leone Hill who plays Sandara Wilkinson who in turn plays Wendy. Then there is Tottles played by Lucy Grove, in turn Rosie Abraham, who has a serious speech impediment, a real plus for any actor.

And then there is Mr Smee played by Francis Beaumont, who is also the narrator, played by Harry Kershaw. Francis is within shouting distance of normal so obviously a mistake in casting. And look out for an appearance by paramedics and a wheelchair, played by itself.

Amid the telling of the J M Barrie story, sort of, is a back stage romance. Sandra fancies Jonathan as does Annie, who thus hates Sandra, while Max is badly smitten by Sandra. So when Sandra finds Jonathan, who she thought was an item with her, in a compromising situation with Annie, fighting breaks out but then a secret recording has Max revealing his feelings for Sandra changes everything. It’s like Brief Encounter in a crocodile costume.

Add in costume malfunctions, collapsing scenery, and a revolve that turns into a merry go round, several blackouts, explosions with enough pyrotechnics for a decent fireworks display and you might just get a taste of what an evening with Mischief Theatre is like.

Which brings us to the real stage crew who do a superb job with scores of cues for sound effects, explosions, flashes and blackouts which all need split second timing. When things go wrong you normally blame the techies, here you praise them.

Simon Scullion has produced a fun set with items that break, fall, whack cast members or collapse quite beautifully all built on a revolve divided into three with Darling bedroom, the rooftops of London, Neverland, the Jolly Roger pirate ship and the lagoon – scenes which can change remarkably quickly when the motor jams on fast. All it needed was carousel horses.

As productions go this is daft, juvenile, silly, but above all magnificently funny and gloriously entertaining. If you don’t laugh at this, get someone to check your pulse. To 01-02-15

Roger Clarke

28-01-15 

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