Theatre Review: The hilarious Peter Pan Goes Wrong hits Melbourne in time for Christmas

With Christmas just around the corner, an evening at the theatre is one of those quintessential traditions that many people venture on in order to elevate their festive spirits. Arguably, one tale in particular that seems reminiscent of the Christmas period is that of Peter Pan. Set in hibernal London during the winter, with messages of adventure, the imagination of children and importance of family – what could be more festive?!

Although the story has been told time and time again through books, films and theatre, three guys from London (Jonathon Sayer, Henry Shields and Henry Lewis, creators of The Play That Goes Wrong) have re-constructed the fairy-tale script to devise something a little different to the story we already know. Peter Pan Goes Wrong premiered at Melbourne Arts Centre on Thursday, 20 December 2018 and the populous audience were left feeling immensely amused.

Whilst the main plot-line of Peter Pan remains relatively unchanged, the premise of the production is so refreshing and entertaining, it is almost like hearing the story for the first time. As the title gives away, the idea behind the show is that everything that could possibly go wrong during a live stage performance, does indeed occur. Peter Pan Goes Wrong is the title of the show that us, the real-life audience have gone to see, but the concept proposes that the character of “Chris Bean” (Connor Crawford), has devised a regular performance of Peter Pan that lavishly falls apart. Think: equipment breaking, the set collapsing, technological difficulties, missing props, incorrect line deliveries, physical injuries of cast members – and basically everything else that could dismantle the illusion of theatre. It doesn’t just break down the fourth wall, it completely extinguishes it with explosives and bulldozers.

What is so engaging about this performance, is how interactive it is with the audience. Fake director, “Chris Bean” (Crawford) remains adamant throughout to convince the audience that his production is “NOT A PANTOMIME” – an area of theatre notoriously disregarded with an air of snobbery amongst many arts critics. Whilst technically speaking Peter Pan Goes Wrong is not a pantomime, it certainly incorporates that fantastic sense of community that panto relishes in. The audience were encouraged to interact with the actors from the immediate offset when they are seated in Melbourne Arts Centre by the actors themselves posing as their various characters. It is this performer-spectator bond which strengthens throughout the evening and worked to immediately relax the audience and ensure  they felt like part of the performance. Without giving too much away, even after the show ended and the curtain closed, half of the audience remained in their seats or stationary on the steps, reluctant to leave because of what was happening after the actors departed the stage.

The various designer’s simplistic approaches to all elements of the production is absolutely fitting with the show’s premise. Remembering that Peter Pan Goes Wrong is based upon a lower budget play which falls apart, extravagant costumes, lighting and sound elements would be unnecessary. It is instead the ways in which these elements are utilised which allowed the performance to stand out as unique and memorable. For instance, erroneous lighting changes and sound queues, badly timed costume changes and inaccurate or missing props. The impressive set consisted of a rotating stage based on three locations: the Darling children’s bedroom, the Neverland forest and Captain Hook’s ship. Once again, the set is manipulated throughout the production for comedic effect and is used as the main component of the show’s pinnacle climax at the end. 

I must admit, I did have minor reservations about the show before attending because of the title and my personal preference in avoiding theatre that is overtly cliched. This was absolutely not the case. Every inch of this superior production has been well-refined and tailored to suit the innovative concept that is consistently entertaining. Whilst the occasional cliche joke or gag may prove unavoidable in such a show, the script remains totally unpredictable and surprising throughout; the humour is one that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Given the amount of time the actors had to spend pausing and allowing the audience time to cease laughing, the performance clearly succeeded in its comedic purpose. Get yourself down to the Melbourne Arts Centre this season – it is the perfect way to spend a festive evening with your family and friends. 

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Peter Pan Goes Wrong will be at the Melbourne Arts Centre (Playhouse) from 22 December to 27 January 2019.

Find out more and buy tickets HERE.

The reviewer attended the show on opening night, 20th December. 

Ruby Robinson

London-born pom living the Melbournian dream. Gig, rum & travel enthusiast.

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