Peter Pan Goes Wrong @ Manchester Opera House – an awfully big adventure

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Photography: Manchester Opera House

Somehow, the Cornley Drama Society managed to book yet another production in Manchester, much to the displeasure of the Opera House team. Bringing chaos and near-fatalities to the stage, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a raucous pantomime of tragicomedy and immersion.

Mischief Theatre, under the guise of Cornley Drama Society, have been parodying disastrous amateur dramatics for little over a decade. Since then, they’ve aired two plays on BBC 1, and The Goes Wrong Show was aired in 2020. The company has created an intricate world of masterfully executed, terrible productions. It seems the world can’t quite get enough of their awful takes on popular shows.

For the first run in their Manchester leg of the UK tour, theatrics start with the opening of the venue doors. As punters arrive and find their seats, the stage manager, later introduced as Trevor, scrambles between stall seats searching for lost objects. The crew then appear to thread lighting equipment through the seats, much to the delight of audience members. 

A member of the cast attempts to make her escape pre-show, and Peter Pan dons sunglasses and stops for photos with the audience as he saunters through the auditorium. It’s a baffling welcome, mesmeric from the get-go. 

As expected, the performance begins late. The audience is welcomed by the directors, the tension between the two polar-opposite characters palpable. Director Chris, played by Jack Michael Stacey, is insistent that the show is not a pantomime, met with joyous cries of, “Oh yes it is!” Storyteller Francis, played by Jean-Luke Worrel, enters with an ill-timed explosion of smoke and glitter. The scene is set as the Darling family are introduced, and the original story is told incredibly poorly. This of course adds to the fun – the only indication that this is no amateur performance is the incredible set design. 

Following a lighting debacle, Mrs. Darling is nearly hit by a spotlight. It’s quite the feat, each calamitous stunt could easily become dangerous if not well rehearsed. Jamie Birkett takes on the burden of playing Mrs. Darling, Lisa and Tinker Bell. She darts in and out of the set doors, hurriedly, and sometimes unsuccessfully, changing her role. For the first musical number of the night, she impresses with incredible vocal talent as the scene falls apart around her. It’s quite the juxtaposition. 

Stealing the show, the rotating stage becomes an apocalyptic hazard throughout. Various mishaps with flying result in concussed characters and demolished set walls, setting the tone of preference for physical comedy. Capturing each mishap wouldn’t be possible without the aid of a pause button, there’s non-stop carnage. 

A story of the cast is injected into the play, and the original tale completely loses relevance save for a backdrop. Chemistry between Wendy and Peter Pan is sordid and almost inappropriate. Laughs are excited from all age categories, the adult jokes woven between silliness to keep everyone on their toes. 

In a true expression of ‘never let them know what your next move is’, Peter Pan Goes Wrong ticks all the boxes without giving jokes away cheaply. The technical mastery of the cast and crew ensures that despite the script, Peter Pan Goes Right.

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Jess Berry

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