Sunday, July 14

Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Leeds Grand Theatre

The Mischief comedy juggernaut just keeps on rolling with another version of Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society’s chaotic take on Peter Pan where everything that can go wrong does.

It is at heart a knowing tribute to all those am dram groups who gamely put on productions every week across the country, and the gag is that none are as likely to be so badly written or performed as Cornley’s unique take on JM Barrie’s tale of a boy who never grows up.

Mischief founders Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayers and Henry Shields know what works for their brand, so have cunningly crafting dialogue so wooden you could make a table out of it, and ironically most critics have sat though productions almost as risible, but also as blissfully unself-aware as this bunch of talentless chumps.

Noises Off will always be the gold standard of British farce but the Goes Wrong franchise comes pretty close to matching it. It’s a feast of fast paced physical comedy with endless sight gags, pratfalls, scenery that refuses to behave itself and even a bit of panto that sets off gales of laughter in an audience happy to join in with the mayhem on stage as the performers risk life and limb performing a series of beautifully timed stunts.

Photo: Pamela Raith Photography

It takes great skill and discipline for trained actors to act badly as well as making the onstage ‘mistakes’ look so effortless. Jack Michael Stacey as Captain Hook is a gifted physical actor pulling off his pratfalls with aplomb, and there’s more than a touch of the young Rowan Atkinson about his work which is no small compliment, with his doleful asides, and a quite brilliant monologue in the second act that my teenage daughter described as one of the funniest things she’s ever seen.   

Gareth Tempest flies badly through the air as Peter, but despite making bad flight look so easy it takes guts to keep sailing into the scenery. The always funny Matthew Howell gamely dons the dog outfit as Nana, but someone forgot to measure whether he could fit through the onstage flap. Deadpan is hard to pull off, but Clark Devlin proves a master as Dennis, who is a terrible actor even by this company’s low standards.

Ciara Morris plays it semi straight as Wendy offering plenty of opportunities for the mayhem to bounce off around her, including the energetic Jamie Birkett who survives some near death experiences and pulls off quite miraculous quick costume changes as she swaps roles.

The final hilarious sequence as the cast lurch from crisis to crisis on Simon Scullion’s rotating set is a masterclass in how to time physical comedy and faith in your fellow performers to hit their marks.

The Goes Wrong series has introduced new audiences to the joys of farce, and in a troubled world there is something really comforting at just laughing out loud at highly skilled silliness.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is at Leeds Grand Theatre until Saturday 20th January. To book or 0113 2430808.

Reviewer: Paul Clarke

Reviewed: 16th January 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.