Flying was a skill, along with window fitting, apparently, Peter Pan had not fully mastered. Pictures: Pamela Raith.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


One thing you can say about The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society productions is that even if you don’t, strictly, get the play intended (listen carefully and you can hear the ghost of J M Barrie gently weeping on the breeze) you do at least get your money’s worth.

As you enter the hushed auditorium, hushed apart from the stage crew hammering and shouting – you can feel the excitement in the air. Will the set be completed ready for the start? Will the electrics work without plunging Birmingham city centre into darkness . . . again? Will the paramedics arrive in time . . . this time?

Luckily all is well (a relative term I know in Cornley's case) and we open with the rather camp narrator, gliding on to set the scene, the glide less predictable each appearance. The glitter bedecked narrator is played by Francis - except Francis is played by Jean-Luke Worrell which gives the first dilemma for audiences, who, to be honest, don’t really care, and, for those who are at least supposed to care, we simple critics of the Thespian arts.

Each character is played by a Cornley student. Sandra, for instance, apparently the official face of Superdrug own brand lip gloss, plays Wendy Darling. Except Wendy played by Sandra was played on Press night by Conseula Rolle.

We will leave out the fact she was an understudy, something you would never have guessed in any case, as that will confuse things even further. 

darling family

The little Darlings, Michael, left, Wendy and headphoned John with Nana the nanny/dog/bloke

So, if you see parentheses then whoever is inside them is the one picking up the pay cheque, not the one playing the part, but the one playing the one playing the part. Got that? 

So, we have the Darling family headed by Mr Darling played by the Cornley society’s director Chris Bean (Jack Michael Stacey) who is equally as bad when he plays Captain Hook although he does manage a superb interaction with the audience during his attempt to poison Pan.

Then there is his wife Mrs Darling, played by Annie (Clare Noy) who also plays Lisa the maid and Tinker Bell, when she manages to change the costumes fast enough, that is.

Tinker Bell is a problem as the sparkly tutu style frock needs a 13 amp socket to keep the sparkly lights on – or in this case stage manager Trevor with an extension lead. Trevor being played by . . . well just Trevor (Jake Burgum).

Then there are the Darling children, darling being the name not the description. You already know about Wendy who seems to add sign language, or maybe it’s semaphore, to her speeches. Next is brother John, played by Dennis (Clark Devlin) who also weighs in as Mr Smee and . . . a mermaid? (that right?).

Tinker bell

Tinker Bell, all wired up and plugged in ready to . . . tinker, I suppose

Dennis cannot remember lines – any of them – so has his lines relayed to him through a set of not entirely discreet, large, bright red headphones so he can say what the script says he should say . . . along with taxi call signs, random radio programmes and backstage chatter.

And the final Darling child is Michael, played by Max (Theo Toksvig-Stewart). Max also has a spell as a mermaid and stars as the crocodile on a sort of bodyboard on castors. Max cannot act to save his, or indeed anyone’s life, but has a starring role as his father has bunged £80,000 into the budget, a sort of theatrical version of the honour’s system.

Protecting the children is their faithful nanny, Nana, who is a dog or rather Robert (Matthew Howell) in a dog costume. Robert the Co assistant director is also seen in Neverland as Starkey, who speaks a strange dialect, distantly related to English, from a part of our fair isles yet to be discovered, and when free, he hangs around with Peter Pan as his shadow.

Ah, the eponymous Pan, played by the dashing, or rather more bouncing, as he clatters into the scenery when flying, Jonathan (Gareth Tempest). He never did fully master the flying bit, although he was better, or perhaps less worse, than Trevor who had a crack, quite literally, after the . . . incident.


Stage fright victim Lucy as terrified Tootles with encouragement from Uncle Robert

Neverland as we all know is . . . well, it’s a third turn of the turntable set, and there we meet Tootles played by Robert’s niece Lucy (Rosemarie Akwafo) who suffers from terminal stage fright, terminal being perhaps a more sinister possibility when a tree falls on her . . . although to be fair it was the only bit of set to hit anyone, well, hit them hard that is . . . and the falling spotlight missed everyone . . . as did the falling Peter Pan . . . that was the incident.

The story is . . .well, if you know the tale of Peter Pan you can probably fill in the somewhat numerous gaps . . . oh no you can’t! Oh yes you can! . . . Oh . . . do stop it, as Chris tells us several times, this is not a pantomime. . . . oh yes it . . .etc. 

If you don’t know the story of Peter Pan, well you still won’t be any clearer come the end, but by all the stars stuck on the black sheet pretending to be sky, you will have had a laugh.

And that is Peter Pan in a nutshell. It is daft, delightfully silly, turns remarkably stupid into an art form and is quite brilliant comedy. There are moments that logic says should not be funny, such as Robert as the unintelligible Starkey wearing a boat . . . don’t ask . . . trying to ask dumbo Dennis’s Mr Smee to pick up a sword he has dropped. A simple request and a gag which runs for ages with an audience increasingly roaring with laughter.

It is that which makes the show so special, for more then two hours, all you hear is the sound of laughter – unbridled, uncontrollable laughter with troubles, life’s problems, misery all forgotten on waves of fun and pure enjoyment. If laughter really is the best medicine, for a couple of hours or so, this will cure anything.

We love things going wrong but to do it with such remarkable timing and precision takes far more skill than getting it to go right and while any regular theatre goer will have seen performances that suggest acting was not the wisest career choice, to get this bad this good requires consummate comedy skill and this cast were simply magnificent.

And, strange to say, but this production, amateurish, abysmal and terrible as it might be is actually, and I say it quietly, more sophisticated then when I first saw Mischief Theatre’s Peter Pan a decade ago. Not that it is better, it just has more . . . you know . . . thingy . . . about it.

It is all aided by a set from Simon Scullion which had to be created and constructed with an engineer’s skill from collapsing bunks to flying actors into scenery, loose boards to clatter the unsuspecting, garden rake style,  a ship's deck that rolls like a drunken pig in a gale and then that central revolve with three sets and the speed of a fairground ride in a frantic finale.

Hats off to the stage crew as well, changing the sets as required in the two sectors out of view and popping on and off to carry out running, or at least, walking repairs.

Director Adam Meggido (just him, he's the real one) keeps a satisfying pace going but you suspect this lot still won’t have got it right when they finish on 23-03-24 and pack up their stuff in the Poly’s students’ union’s 1990’s Transit van, borrowed from the sub-aqua club, and head off to Manchester and then Leicester.

Roger Clarke


Anyone who saw Magic Goes Wrong as it made its disastrous way around the country will remember the Mind Mangler, the world’s greatest (bad) mind reader and medium (although low would be more accurate in his case).

Well, he is back in a brand new Mischief show Mind Mangler – a Member of the Tragic Circle which a passing, real, clairvoyant predicts will reach the Alex on 27-05-24. 

Index page Alex Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre