Masterful display of bad acting

Peter Pan Goes Wrong at The Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne. Picture by Alastair Muir SUS-150326-085025001

Peter Pan Goes Wrong at The Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne. Picture by Alastair Muir SUS-150326-085025001

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Now then, if you happen to be the borough council health and safety chaps, please stop reading now, writes Kevin Anderson.

And if you were scheduling a Devonshire Park Theatre inspection, save it till next week. Because all this week, Peter Pan is Going mightily Wrong.

This hilarious show has a loyal following, and on opening night a packed theatre pretty much knew what to expect.

There is frenzy even before curtain up, with backstage staff racing everywhere accompanied by molto agitato music.

Accident-prone actors assail the punters, and rather like the best pantos, you begin to wonder if the front stalls might be an unwise choice of seats…

The whole, glorious premise of the play is that if something can go wrong, it will. So the performance lurches from one mishap to the next, some of them quite alarming.

Flying anyone or anything in a theatre is perilous enough without deliberately crashing into the scenery. Crunch, trip, stumble: time and again, we wince in sympathy.

But acting badly is a skill in itself. Essentially, it’s all about timing, and this lot have it nailed.

There is a generous share of theatre in-jokes. In any performance, the actors are at the mercy of sound cues and lighting desk, and much of the fun here comes when cast and crew collide.

For that matter, it’s pretty hard to know who are actors and who are the crew – a demarcation that usually is religiously observed.

The plot is based on JM Barrie’s classic story, but it frequently veers off with all the composure of a dog on a skateboard.

It’s very much an ensemble production, with lots of parts doubled and no-one wilfully claiming the limelight. Actually, now and again, some rather good legitimate acting surfaces amid the chaos.

Laurence Pears is a masterful Cleese-like Captain Hook, Leonie Hill’s Wendy is extravagantly over-acted, and Naomi Sheldon earns an award for getting costume changes down to about four seconds.

The superb revolving set deserves a credit of its own, almost launching into orbit in the final chaotic sequence.

Barrie himself must be turning in his grave – or spinning with that revolving set. Go and see it, share the pain and share the hilarity.