Review – Peter Pan

Setting the 1904 play Peter Pan in a First World War military hospital in France both defines this production and redefines the play. A prologue establishes the setting, the trauma of which is laid bare as wounded soldiers are brought in from the trenches. A nurse (Wendy) discovers one of them has a copy of Peter Pan and begins to read from it. Only at this point does the familiar story begin. And despite the bleak setting, all the well-known elements are there – although Nana the dog only gets a name-check but doesn’t appear.

Wendy’s narrative soon takes flight and the story unfolds pretty conventionally in terms of the plot, story and character. But the setting and the presence of soldiers in the trenches that surround the stage brings us back to the war at every turn. Mrs Darling has lost her children to Never Land where they face unknown perils, just as countless other mothers have lost their children to the fields of war. Not all will return and those that do will be changed by their experiences.

For sheer theatrical inventiveness this show takes some beating. A house for Wendy is quickly assembled from apparently arbitrary items of junk lying around. Hospital beds transform by turns into a poppy field, the interior walls of a house and Skull Island. Tinkerbell and the infamous crocodile are two highlights, the former being a hand-held puppet based around a hurricane lamp and prone to robust expressions of her feelings to Wendy, who she sees her as a threat to her friendship with Peter.

Then, of course, there’s the flying. There are no delicate invisible wires here. Peter and the Darling children zoom about the vast space afforded by the open air venue on sturdy ropes with bungee chords giving extra bounce – whilst other members of the cast operate their aerobatics by acting as counter-weights on the other end of the ropes. The effect is exhilarating.

Some may find the First World War parallels are laid on somewhat heavily and that the messages about that war in particular have been well-trodden theatrically, not least in Oh What a Lovely War! which also, like this show, takes a popular entertainment and songs of the era and turns them into a social commentary. But the overall effect is to provide a context for the play which gives it depth and resonance to an audience comprised largely of children who did grow up.

Thanks to  for the opportunity to see this production which is at the Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park until 15 June. By the way, a tip for any first timers at the venue – take a blanket!

Review – The Comedy About a Bank Robbery

Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About a Bank Robbery bravely eschews the format of theatrical mishaps successfully established in The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong. In doing so the company have created something equally silly and manic, but also even funnier.

I don’t know if they took inspiration from the Criterion Theatre’s previous production, The 39 Steps, but Bank Robbery adopts some of its conventions. One actor, for example, is literally billed as playing ‘everyone else’, memorably at one point ending up with three of the characters he plays getting into a fight with each other. And props and scenery are created by the cast from a few basic elements. So a car involves two actors holding torches for headlights and shoes for windscreen wipers.

The plot enables Micschief to display their considerable comedic talent through some well-established comedy situations. So we have confused identity through, frankly improbably ineffective, disguises. We have an apartment with the classic pull-down bed, which goes up and down at key moments. We have the Fawlty Towers scene from The Germans when one character performs charades behind another’s back. We even have characters losing their trousers! There’s also some effective wordplay of the ‘Who’s on first’ variety (Google Abbot and Costello if you don’t know this reference).

There’s also a hefty dose of brilliant theatrical imagination on show. The set is a marvel of on-stage origami, topped by a brilliant set-piece Mission Impossible-style robbery involving air conditioning ducts and a stunning coup de theatre birds-eye view from the office ceiling onto the floor ‘below’. I’ll say no more, but it’s not only surprising and effective but, like so much else in this show, brilliantly funny in its execution.

Adding even more into the mix is music, which at times, albeit briefly, gives us the feel of a proper musical. Musical parodies are nothing new (we’ve already got Forbidden Broadway and, coming soon, Spamilton) but surely the Mischief people can give us their own unique take with The Musical that Goes Wrong?

Thanks to for the invitation to what is clearly the funniest show in town.

The Comedy About a Bank Robbery is at The Criterion Theatre.