Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong

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By Andra Jenkin

Date / Venue: Thursday November 1st, 2018 - Civic Theatre, Auckland

It’s time for an awfully big misadventure.

I feel sorry for late comers. Well before curtain up there are cast and crew members messing about with electrical cables, and getting audience members involved while the stage lights flicker alarmingly.

The play has begun to ‘go wrong’ before it’s even started, which feels very right. ‘It’s hard to know where to look,’ my mother laughs, as she watches someone have a panic attack, lights short out, crew members rush around, and hears the frustrated yells between cast and crew over a lost prop. The lines between those seated, and the cast and crew is so blurred it’s impossible to tell what action is a part of the show, and what is the reaction to it.

The audience starts cheering. The prop has been found and incredibly has not yet injured anyone. Something has gone right. But then come the disconcerting warnings, and side talk among the crew. Am I overhearing a genuine issue, or am I simply already submerged in a titanic tale about a showboating pirate ship that might end in just as big a disaster?

It’s increasingly hard to tell which things are rightly wrong, which are rightly right, and whether or not there are things that might in fact be wrongly wrong.

There is an eruption of applause as Jay Laga’aia takes the stage. He’s a home town boy made good and we all know he’s one of us, even if he’s also a big star, and the narrator, and any number of other various characters. His timing is impeccable. One of the hardest things to do in comedy, when people expect things to go wrong, is to let them, at the exact right time for it to be even funnier than when no one knew it was coming. Jay is not the only actor who does this well, but we love him, and we’re happy he’s home and hilarious.

The entire cast know exactly what they’re doing, especially when they look clueless. Max, who is also Michael who is also a crocodile and is played by Jordan Prosser, suffers from Pan envy, and is in love with Sandra Wilkinson, who is also Wendy and is played by Francine Cain. It’s complicated. The play has its heroes and villains and even its damsels in distress, but they’re not always who you expect them to be. In the tradition of pantomime (it’s not a pantomime) there is some messing about with gender, but there’s messing about with every convention you can think of, so if anything they’ve underplayed it.

It’s hard for actors to act badly. They have to be really good to do so. It’s a fine line that the cast tread like they’re walking the plank. There are slapstick scenes that require incredible physical dexterity, and a nod to Faulty Towers. Things are discombobulating and confusing and genius.

There’s a sense of dislocation, because in the theatre you suspend your disbelief. The actor pretends to light a candle, and whether or not it lights, in your mind, you pretend right along with them. But in this play the candle doesn’t light, and it’s supposed to, and it’s not supposed to. The disbelief is not so much suspended as hung by the neck until dead.

There are scenes that would have been beautiful and magical in another incarnation of Pan, but in Things Go Wrong they are so delightfully ridiculous, my make-up ran with the laughter.

The audience is invited in by Robert Grove, who plays everything from a dog to a pirate, and is in turn played by Luke Joslin. Unfortunate things happen around him, things that generally require professional help, certainly his Shadow will have me running back to therapy.

Connor Crawford is in top form as Hook. He takes his art seriously, and not so much hooks us in, as tries to keep us out.  But it is he who causes the forth wall to not so much break, as to well and truly shatter. These interactions are so hilarious I’m actually exhausted by the laughter, and have to have a little sigh afterwards to catch my breath.

It feels so unfair not to speak to the excellence of each cast member. George Kemp’s hapless Dennis, Teagan Wouters’ poor Tootles, Tammy Weller’s Tink, Tiger and Mary Darling needed so many changes I’m amazed she kept her hair on, Darcy Brown’s oversexed Pan, and Adam Dunn’s Bottom. It might not be Shakespeare, but it certainly played its part. All are clearly brilliant in a comedy that is both intensely physical during the slapstick humour, and requires wit and timing, and a huge memory to hit the mark while the precise chaos ensues.

I must also give credit to the secret cast member hiding right in the open. The set. It is amazing, and apparently designed by Simon Baker from The Mentalist. The Programme has also gone wrong, and while credit for the remarkable feat of engineering must go to Simon Scullion, it is Baker’s picture that stares back at me as I try to figure out the various culprits involved in production.

The moving parts are directed by Adam Meggido, a mammoth task judging by all the things that must go wrong so that the play is performed exactly right. He has every reason to feel pretty smug right now. He has created an epic fantasy, a riotous comedy, and my happy place.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong continues with shows in Wellington & Christchurch

Wellington | OPERA HOUSE | 21-25 November | Tickets: Ticketmaster

Christchurch | Isaac Theatre Royal | 28 Nov – 2 Dec | Tickets: Ticketek