Friday, 29 March 2013

Peter and Alice

Saturday evening, after our day spent mainly in the British Library, found us at the Noel Coward theatre, to see  Peter and Alice, a new play by John Logan.

I booked the tickets last summer, as the premise sounded interesting, and I wanted to see both Judi Dench (who plays Alice) and Ben Whishaw (Peter). (I've had bad luck before - last time I had tickets to see Judi Dench she sprained her ankle the day before we saw the show, and her understudy was on instead..)

The starting point for 'Peter and Alice' is a real-life meeting between the 80 year old Alice Lidell Hargreaves (who was Lewis Carrol's inspiration and audience for 'Alice in Wonderland') and 35 year old Peter Llewelyn-Davies (who, with his brothers, inspired J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan). There's no record of what they said to one another, so Logan was free to speculate.

We begin by seeing Peter (a publisher) trying to convince Alice to publish her memoires, revealing, in the course of their conversation, that he 'is' "Peter Pan" just as she 'is' "Alice in Wonderland". things get odder from there, as we meet not only Carroll and Barrie, but also the  Alice and Peter from the books. The set becomes fantastical - like a toy theatre decorated with images from both books, and both characters reveal more and more about their lives.

Whishaw is particularly strong; resentful of his borrowed notoriety, deeply scarred by his war-time experience and the loss of two of his brothers, and ultimately deeply pessimistic.

There are many entertaining moments in the play - Peter and Alice arguing with their literary alter-egos, Alice's imperious put downs, and the casual arrogance of the fictional Alice and Peter, too young and fearless to have learned to be afraid.

Olly Alexander made an excellent Peter Pan, capturing just the right feel of the boy who never grew up, and to me, it seemed that the play was far more about Peter Davies than anyone else.

Ultimately, however, the play was slightly disappointing - I enjoyed it, but the players outshone the play; there was rather too much telling, and not quite enough showing, and I suspect that without the superb Whishaw and Dench, the play (which at less than 90 minutes  is pretty short) would drag)

The play is a new one one, and only opened on 9th March, so perhaps the author will consider some re-writes to tighten it up a little... or perhaps not.

I'd give it 5 out of 5 stars, I think - 5/5 for the acting, a little less for the production. But I'm very glad I went, and frankly I'd go to see Judi Dench if she were reading the phone book!

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