Monday, 2 February 2015

Peter Pan Goes Wrong!

A while ago my friends had tickets to go and see The Play That Goes Wrong by the young and vibrant comedy theatre group Mischief Theatre, first formed in 2008 by a group of graduates and students of The London Academy of Music & Art.  It is very, very rare that I regret a theatre decision but in this case I couldn't make it as I had another engagement.  From their stories about the production, I knew I had missed out on something incredibly special. 

I was right; The Play That Goes Wrong is now firmly ensconced in the West End to rave reviews and I still need to see it!  Luckily it has been extended until September 2015 so there is still time...

When the same group of friends told me that Mischief Theatre were bringing their newest production, Peter Pan Goes Wrong to the Marlowe Theatre, I knew I wasn't missing out again and Steve and I joined Claire, RV, John, Ellie, Peter and Jo for a pre-theatre curry followed by a night of riotous comedy.
The curry may have been a mistake - apparently 2 hours of side splitting laughter plus spice are not a great mix!
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For a bunch of am drammers, The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong are the type of productions that we love to see, having us jointly laughing and cringing in our seats as so much of what is going on on the stage resonates with us.  There were moments when I had both hands over my face and was peeking out at the action on stage from between my fingers.

The idea is simple; the audience are watching a play within a play.  The actors are playing an am-dram group who are putting on an am-dram production that just goes horrifically, hysterically wrong in every conceivable way whilst they struggle through to the end.
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I don't want to give away too many of the gags, but here are a check list of things to look out for:

Wardrobe malfunctions
Collapsing set
Never ending line loop
Accidentally switching characters and saying each others lines
Major and minor injury
Malfunctioning set
Accidental nudity
Personal relationship breakdown on stage out of character
Misbehaving facial hair and wigs
The wrong sound recordings being played
Actor substitutions mid performance
Punch ups
Stage and Tech crew appearing on stage at the wrong moments
Lighting mishaps
Flying misadventures
Out of character on stage revelations
Lovers tiffs
Broken bones
Wrong lines
Unconscious actors
In the interval we found ourselves comparing when things have gone wrong in our own productions (like the time the trap collapsed in Hobson's Choice and I accidentally trapped Steve's fingers in the door whilst attempting to hold it closed on stage so Derek could drill it from the other side mid performance, or the line loop we managed to get into during the Wimbledon scene in Teechers, or the time we flipped a light switch on stage as a visual cue and two seconds later the lights actually went out) and the exaggerated examples in Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Nana's experiences with the dog flap, the misbehaving night lights and the line loop during a musical number).
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From the start the audience is utterly engaged in the performance.  Crime scene tape is removed from a row of seats so that people can sit down.  The techies are running backwards and forwards across the stage arguing with each other, until one of the techies gets fed up and came and sits with us for a bit of a gossip whilst the theatre is filling up.  The host gets the whole auditorium (1200 people strong) to sing Happy Birthday to Dave only to realise afterwards that Dave was Michael and it wasn't his birthday, leaving the host to slink off muttering apologies.
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We are treated to an introduction from the Director and his Co Assistant Director who pompously inform us that we are not watching a pantomime, we are watching something that will apparently be a lot more high brow (he used a word, I'm blowed if I can remember what it was!) and that due to a cast member illness, Michael will now be played by the oldest member of the drama troop.  Beard and all.
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Some of the actors take on multiple roles.  As is traditional, Hook and Mr Darling are played by the same actor, Nana the Dog is also the Crocodile, John and Michael play Pirates and Tinker Bell gets to jump between so many characters her costumes get rather mixed up as she races through lightening quick changes, and doesn't quite get her dress done up in time.

One of the major reliefs for the actors must be that, if something really were to go wrong, the audience would not have the first blue clue!
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There are mishaps and misadventures and through it all I was screaming with laughter to the point that my stomach muscles were aching and tears were running down my cheeks.  You can see the amount of work and effort that has gone into the production; every little move has to be choreographed to the last detail and the level of mutual trust between the members of the Company is incredibly high.  The result is an exquisite dance of comedy.

The revolving set was beautifully made and a masterful concept that comes into its own towards the end of the second act.  I could see the wheels in Steve's head turning at a few of the set tricks as he worked out how he could build something similar for us.  We all left commenting how we would kill to be able to be involved in something like this. 

Even the programme features a programme within a programme, with mock bio's, adverts for future up and coming productions from the Company and local advertisers shelling their wares.  It is the attention to detail that really makes Mischief Theatre stand out.
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Despite the best efforts of the mock cast, this production does still have pantomime moments with shouts of 'He's behind you' and 'Oh no he didn't' ringing to the rafters.  The children in the theatre loves this as it meant that the pantomime format was still there and familiar to them, allowing them to get involved.  There are musical and dance numbers that the audience can get involved in, occasionally interrupted by techie mistakes as the music gets stuck on repeat or one of the actors headpieces tunes into a local radio, causing him to announce, in full vocal harmonies with the rest of the cast, that 'the traffic on the M2 is backed up to Junction 5'.  Good to know for the trip home.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is touring the UK until July 2015 (full schedule here).  Go and see it and take everyone you know for a brilliant night of laughter.  Just remember, everything you see on the stage has probably happened to a Company for real somewhere else!
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