Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Many years ago, Les Dawson used to include in his act a piece of him playing the piano - well, I say playing it, but actually it was the worst piano playing you could ever hope not to hear; out of key, out of time and with more bum notes than Prime Minister's Question Time, but the genius of Les was that, despite the obvious disastrous keyboard playing, you could still make out what he was trying to play - how, because Mr Dawson was in fact a brilliant pianist and it was this skill that allowed him to make such a comical attempt sound both dreadful and wonderfully funny. When I was learning to play I regularly held onto the belief that it takes more skill to play something badly on purpose than it does to just play it well and to that end, the people at Mischief Theatre are all geniuses of the highest order.
Coming hot on the heels of their last production "The Play That Goes Wrong", the brilliant, madcap and downright dangerous gang are back to retell the story of Peter Pan in the guise of Cornley Polytechnic's Christmas pantomime - sorry, Festive Vignette (backed by Max's Uncles money). Right from entering the auditorium you know that this is not going to be like any other play you've seen - the cast/backstage team/production crew are already busy trying to organise last minute preparations in readiness for first curtain leaving some bemused viewers wondering if they should have stayed in the bar for one last drink. As the show starts and the Director and Co, sorry Assistant, Director introduce the nights performance there could be no one left in any doubt that all normal expectations of theatre should be put under their seats for the next few hours.
Producing a play within a play has been done many times before with notable exponents; Bill Shakespeare, Al Bennett and Tommy Stoppard to name but 2, but none have portrayed the angst, frustrations, annoyance and desperation of an amateur dramatics company attempting to put on an end of year play, complete with cast in-fighting, set and prop malfunctions, personal injury and verbal abuse of the audience. Indeed, for this show the audience are invited to contribute to the mayhem, responding to the usual panto prompts but with additional scope for ad hoc heckling and hero worship in equal amounts.
I'm sure many can identify with the Director , Chris Bean (played by Laurence Pears) who casts himself in the roles he wanted, and his drive for excellence which, despite their best endeavours, wasn't really matched by the rest of the cast and leads to mounting frustrations. Likewise, the leading lady (in her mind at least) playing Wendy Darling (played by Sandra Wilkinson who was actually played by the brilliant Leonie Hill - keep up) who takes every opportunity to demonstrate ALL her theatrical talents, regardless of what scene she is in, will have rang true with many frustrated swings and understudies.
Everyone deserves applause and credit but in particular Naomi Sheldon who plays Annie Twilloil who in turn plays Mary Darling, Lisa the housekeeper, Tinker Bell, Tiger Lilly and Cecco - just remembering who to enter stage as is tantamount to a Mensa entrance test, let alone the costume changes and accents - because of this Naomi is pretty central to much of the craziness (and probably in weeks of therapy afterwards). Also a word for Rosie Abraham playing Lucy Grove who in turns becomes Tootles - Rosie seemed to spend most of the show being physically abused, dropped, smacked, crushed, rolled and tossed about, such a shame for a delightful and delicate deep sea diver.
An ingenious stage design gives 3 sets in one on a rotating turntable, perfect for quick scene changes but prone to mechanical malfunction which, by the end of the second act, makes for the funniest 15 minutes to be seen on stage. Couple this with some spectacularly bad wire flying and a host of disastrous sound effects and the laughter just keeps coming and coming. It is human nature to laugh at others' misfortune, especially when those falling have held themselves up for praise; The Mischief Theatre co tap into that trait with such aplomb that you feel guilty, well, almost guilty at the stream of calamity.
As I said earlier, to take something and purposefully make it look so bad that it is funny is a real skill, without which the audience would be left wondering, was that meant to happen - fear not, for every joke, pratfall, 'accident' and mistake are expertly choreographed so as to ensure they eek out maximum hilarity. From the first line to the last, this is non stop laughter at its best - a total riot of madcap mishap which at times defies belief and re-defines parody, pastiche and plain old silly fun. Too often people are put off attending theatre for fear that it is still elitist, snobbish and aloof - well if there were more plays like this (and more experts like this cast & crew) then I am sure theatre audience numbers would rocket. Oh, and be sure to get a programme, it is packed with more in jokes, back stories and mistakes.
Come to Darlington Civic, leave your inhibitions at the door, relax those chuckle muscles and be prepared to laugh so hard that a little bit of wee comes out - oops.