Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Theatre Royal, Brighton)
I have been to the theatre many times when something has gone wrong. I remember going to see Agatha Christie’s Black Coffee, starring Robert Powell (who played Jesus on TV), and the lights went out so the performance had to be cancelled, though it was very nice of Mr Powell to come out on stage still dressed as Hercule Poirot the Belgian detective to explain what had happened and I did get home early enough on that evening to see Game of Thrones on plus one.
I suppose when you work in theatre you have to expect things to go wrong from time to time, especially if someone has foolishly quoted from Macbeth when in the theatre and failed to go outside, spin around three times, spit, curse, and then knock to be allowed back in, or if they have whistled on or off stage, or wished someone good luck before a performance instead of saying break a leg (although it would be very bad luck if someone did actually break a leg).
But you would think most theatre companies would be able to prevent the sort of disasters that happened during what should have been a jolly pantomime version of Peter Pan at Brighton. For some reason it was called Peter Pan Goes Wrong, which proved to be a fateful prediction and turned out to be a horrible coincidence.
Everything started well in what appeared to be a straightforward retelling by Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society of J. M. Barrie’s classic children’s story Peter Pan, about the boy who never grew up. But we should have realised things were amiss when some of the company went around the audience before the curtain was raised asking people if they had any skills that might help the production run smoothly. Pretty disgraceful that things were so badly planned – if I’d been asked I might have been able to lend a hand with costumes or something.
If you went along expecting the sort of professional show that in the past would have starred such luminaries as Anita Harris or Bonnie Langford then not only would you have been sadly disappointed but you would probably have walked out and asked for your money back. At least you could have got a nice sausage roll and a Lucozade from Tesco’s on your way to the bus stop.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and we didn’t even have the luxury of Robert Powell playing Poirot to step in front of the curtain and apologise. Deary me – scenery was falling down, the poor actors kept tripping over or forgetting their lines, and even the dramatic flying harnesses didn’t work properly.
I should imagine that the Theatre Royal was properly embarrassed by this terrible production. Most of the audience were laughing with uncontrolled hilarity throughout, but this must have been through embarrassment at how many things were going wrong. I kept hearing taxis arriving and honking their horns loudly, presumably to collect disgruntled audience members.
Funnily enough, the lights also went out in this play – several times – and my mind went back to Black Coffee, although on that occasion I did think it was part of the plot so I didn’t scream so loudly as I might otherwise have done. The trouble was I did see who moved an important prop so it rather gave it away, just like what happened in And Then There Were None when you could see actors taking the soldiers away even though they didn’t commit the murders, which was very confusing. If the lights going out in Peter Pan had been the only problem the cast might just have muddled through, but things went from bad to worse and I began to feel very sorry for everyone involved as I chewed on my jujubes.
The director, Chris Bean, also played Mr Darling and Captain Hook and he seemed to be losing his temper towards the end as things continued to go wrong. I wanted to jump up on stage and give him an aspirin. Poor Annie Twilloil seemed to be playing about 12 different roles in this production, including Tinker Bell and Mrs Darling, and you had to feel sorry for her as she kept having to change costume – I can only assume there were no understudies to help out. I think I would have gone mad!
In fact as a whole the cast struggled to keep things going as disaster followed disaster, which just goes to show how professional they are. I was rather impressed by Dennis Tyde in his pyjamas and I liked Max Bennett, who played several major roles, including the crocodile, though he did keep winking at me which was very flirtatious, but understandable.
I kept wanting to sing the Furchester Catastrophe song from the TV series The Furchester Hotel because everything really was so catastrophic! It’s quite a good children’s programme, which is a sort of cross between The Muppets and Sesame Street, though Kermit the frog isn’t in it.
I’m sure J.M. Barrie and the Great Ormond Street children’s hospital would be turning in their graves. I can only hope this sort of amateur hour isn’t ever repeated, and I hope the actors get decent jobs in future, perhaps with the Agatha Christie Theatre Company as they are usually quite good, even though they don’t always change their costumes enough. Annie Twilloil could teach them a thing or two about that!