FIRST staged in 1904, JM Barrie’s story of Peter Pan, the “boy who never grows up” has been seen all around the world in pantomime and film, but never as in the show Canberrans are about to see – “Peter Pan Goes Wrong”.
Scripted by Brits Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, of Mischief Theatre Company, from a text by Susie HK Brideswell, it has the familiar characters on stage – Peter, the perennially evil Captain Hook, the Darling children, Nana their dog, the princess Tiger Lily and Tinkerbell, that most jealous of fairies.
But as resident tour director Luke Joslin, who also gets to play several parts, says that’s about as far as the resemblance to the famous stage play goes. In this version, which is a play-within-a-play, it shows the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society at work and anything that can go wrong does.
Joslin, who received a 2018 Sydney Theatre Award nomination for directing the musical “In The Heights”, has been working in Auckland with the original London director Adam Meggido to stage a farce where the revolving stage malfunctions, the flight scenes end up with a thud, the lights fall from the rigging and Tinkerbell’s fairy costume nearly electrocutes her.
Sounds familiar? That’s because it’s by the same team that performed “The Play That Goes Wrong” in 2017, another play-within-a-play, a murder-mystery being staged by the same Polytechnic Drama Society.
Joslin was in that show too, along with Canberra’s Jordan Prosser, Darcy Brown, Francine Cain, Adam Dunn, George Kemp and Tammy Weller. They’re joined by Tegan Wouters, Matt Whitty and Jessie Yates, Jay Laga’aia as the narrator and Connor Crawford tripling as the Conley director, Mr Darling and the plum role of Captain Hook.
When “CityNews” catches up with Joslin by phone to Melbourne, he’s just back from a lightning trip to Sydney Opera House where “In The Heights” has opened to full capacity and excellent reviews.
“This is the next play after ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ and it’s very different, but equally ridiculous, and dangerous,” he says.
“And it’s even more for a wide audience – 8 to 80… there is something for little kids with plenty of visual gags and stock characters, but I would say adults get more out of it,” he says.
“The last play was pitched to an adult market, but because now there is the element of pantomime, it’s very different.
“In the previous play there were lots of elongated jokes… but ‘Peter Pan’ is snappier and more presentational.”
As well, he reports, when London director Adam Meggido came out to NZ, the first thing he asked the cast was whether pantomime resonated here.
“Not really, we had to tell him, it’s not really something we grew up with, not like the English,” he says.
With that in mind, they’ve come up with a pre-show section, a sort of “Panto 101”. As the audience comes in, actors roam the auditorium giving lessons on pantomime, on what to do and when to call out, “look behind you” and suchlike.
So how, we ask, is “Peter Pan” dangerous?
“Well, there are technical malfunctions that throw everything into a chaotic spin, but I won’t tell you too much,” Joslin says,
“It looks dangerous and, as you leave, there’s something else that the audience won’t expect.
“The beauty of the panto format is that although it’s technical, there is an element of the home-grown, so you think it’s more dangerous than it is… the actors have to make it feel like a terrifying experience, but if you go backstage, there’s really very little to it.”
Of course there are characters flying, something “Peter Pan” has been famous for from its first stage manifestation in 1904.
“But it never quite goes to play and it’s never the same each night. It’s pretty simple, pulleys and things, but you never know where it’s going,” says Joslin.
Mind you, he says the actors have to be incredibly fit and, luckily, acrobat Darcy Brown, playing Peter Pan, is.
The biggest fun is that apart from Brown in the lead, most of the actors play two or three parts. Connor Crawford, for instance, plays Captain Hook and Mr Darling, but also the insufferable director of the show, Chris Bean.
“I myself play Robert Grove, the co-director, very pompous and self-assured – he also appeared in ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’,”Joslin says.
But for him, the highlight is playing Nana the dog in a head-to-toe shaggy dog costume.
“I’m hoping for good air conditioning in Canberra because I sweat a lot, but people love seeing a six-foot-three guy in a dog costume – I’ve never heard laughter like it, it appeals to everyone.”
“Peter Pan Goes Wrong”, Canberra Theatre, February 6 -10. Book at canberratheatrecentre.com.au