Back in April, I wrote a piece here about the The Play That Goes Wrong troupe, and their British TV series, The Goes Wrong Show, but mostly to write about their absolutely hour-special, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, which I embedded on the site.
In a later post, I mentioned that a two-hour stage adaptation played on London’s West End to huge success, and earlier this year it was on Broadway and was such a big hit they had to extend the limited run.
And it moved to Los Angeles where it opened on Friday. I saw it with a couple of friends at the Sunday matinee.
O dear God in heaven and all that’s holy, is it ever hilarious.
Two hours of, for much of the play, a theater-full of almost non-stop laughter. It’s seriously impressive what they do – and able maintain laughter for that long. This takes physical comedy to another level, making it artistry.
And what I love is that at the end, they bring out the entire backstage crew to join the cast in the curtain call. And it’s deserved. Which speaks to how truly amazing the physical production is. I think this is the first time I’ve ever seen a backstage crew honored this way. But it almost would have felt wrong if the company didn’t include them, you wanted to cheer them, especially as they took their bows. That’s how outlandish the entire show is.
The TV production was an hour. This has an extra hour, and there doesn’t see an ounce of fat. (I think they may have originally written it for the stage, but never put it on, and cut it down for TV. I think.)
In the article, I mentioned that there is a role written for a narrator in such a way (since he carries a book with him and only appears periodically throughout the play) where they can have a celebrity actor play the part. In the TV version, it’s performed by David Suchet, who famously starred as ‘Hercule Poirot’ in the long-running television series. For the Broadway run, they had two or three narrators, but I know the first one was Neil Patrick Harris (who extended his run). There are two narrators set for the Los Angeles performances – for the first part of its stay, the role was played by Bradley Whitford, who was a hoot. And there was material written that was specifically tailored for him.
If you live in Los Angeles and have any sensibility for physical comedy, do yourself a favor and try to go. It’s slapstick done on an almost Shakespearean level. And this isn’t the sort of production that any community theater can just toss together. This may be your only chance to see it, until they bring it back or happen to be putting it on somewhere else where you happen to be. The play runs at the Ahmanson until only September 10. You can get information about tickets here.
Rather than describe again everything about the “Goes Wrong” people, and the production, I'm embedding that original article again below -- followed by the video of the hourlong TV version.
I’ve mentioned here in the past a wonderful British TV series I adore, The Goes Wrong Show from the same people who did the stage shows, The Play That Goes Wrong and its various sequels. (I’ve posted several videos of them. It’s a TV series I’ve highly recommended to many, but as far as I know only one person has ever taken me up on, with his great thanks, but ahem, I’ll leave it at that…)
The premise of The Play That Wrong is that this small, not terribly competent theater company, the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, puts on a play where, as you might imagine, everything goes wrong. They keep up the lunacy all evening, and it’s a total joy, making slapstick almost Shakespearan. The London production has remarkably been running for 11 years.
The creators – who star in the show, with others making up the regular troupe – then adapted the concept into two TV specials with celebrity guest stars, which did so well that they made it a series, which was on the air for two seasons. (I don’t know if they’re planning more or not.) It’s the same premise, the Cornley Drama Society puts on 30-minute plays each week – without guests -- in a different genre (a WWII drama, a legal drama, a horror story, a Christmas show and so on. Their version of a hot, steamy Tennessee Williams drama, called 90 Degrees, is a masterclass in physical comedy and slapstick. The legal drama is a close second, A Trial to Watch). Most of the shows are available for free online on YouTube and on the DailyMotion.com website. And also for a fee on Amazon Prime and on Amazon Prime via the BroadwayHD Channel.
(The way the shows were released in the U.S. made it appear as if the two hour-long specials were done in the series’ third year. But after watching everything, I learned that they were actually first.)
Yesterday, I read about them about to open a new show on Broadway that’s similar but a touch different from their others. It’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong – not a totally original work like their other productions, but obviously based on a real play. Why this caught my eye is that it’s a stage adaptation of one of their TV specials in their first season! It opens on Broadway April 19 and will have a limited run of four months. (Hopefully it will tour.)
As I noted, in their third year, they only did two shows, both based on existing material and both with name stars. One was A Christmas Carol Goes Wrong (that featured Derek Jacobi and Diana Rigg), and the other was this one on Peter Pan, that had David Suchet as the Narrator. (If you’re not a Masterpiece Mystery fan on PBS, he famously played ‘Hercule Poirot’ for years.) Both specials were a lot of fun, but the Peter Pan show was (for my taste…) spectacular. Utterly hilarious. It starts enjoyable and fine, sort of their standard, good, clever stuff – but then it builds. And then builds. And in the last third they pretty much throw out any pretense of sanity and go full-bore crazy. And the role of narrator is much bigger than the guest star roles in the Christmas Carol production. (There’s one sequence in it that Suchet has which is joyously inspired.)
For the Broadway production, it appears that they will have a different guest star as the Narrator for a couple of weeks, and then bring in new ones. The first guest star announced is Neil Patrick Harris. I’m not exactly sure how they’ll do the stage show, since an hour is a little short – perhaps they’ll expand it slightly. Plus there are a lot of bits in the last third of the TV version that they couldn’t ever, even conceivably do on stage, so they’ll probably adapt it slightly differently.
The good news for anyone interested in the original TV special of Peter Pan Goes Wrong is that – we are happy to embed it here! If you don’t like physical comedy and slapstick, it’s not for you. But even at that, know that this is unlike most slapstick you’ve likely seen as they make it a fine art. So, for the rest (or if you decide to give it a try), curtain up.
(Note: If the video doesn't run in the browser, just click the "Play in YouTube" link -- or click here.)
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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