PETER AND ALICE
by John Logan.
Noel Coward Theatre 85-88 St Martins Lane WC2N 4AU To 1 June 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5141.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 March.
Suppositions about the truth behind some famous fictions.
There’s subtlety to playwright John Logan’s title, its significance unfurling from the early moments. Yes, Peter is Peter Llewellyn Davies, publisher, and one of five brothers who inspired J M Barrie to write Peter Pan (though Peter gave his name, he wasn’t the closest model from the brotherhood).
And Alice is Alice Liddell Hargreaves, identifying her, the married surname apart, with Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland and Looking-Glass heroine. But when they meet in a book-lined old room for the 1932 Carroll centenary it’s clear they are also individuals separate from their literary derivatives.
For both this separation, which can never be quite complete, is fundamental. Being Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland must seem exciting to others, but it’s a burden to carry the identity throughout life. Both are adults, linked to perpetual children. And both question the moment of becoming adult, entering the complexity and regrets of life. What did it for these two is the loss of relatives, principally in war.
Another duality lies in the nature of books, neat and scholastic-seeming on shelves, such as those of the framing scenes here, yet a colourful chaotic kaleidoscope when their contents act on the imagination, as Christopher Oram’s set opens on a bright theatrical scene with Pan and Alice characters looking-on from the boxes, and to more adventurous landscapes recalling illustrations for children’s stories.
Alongside these adult/child contrasts there’s a sense of Victorian and Edwardian men not having the vocabulary or emotional awareness to identify their feelings towards the young; Nicholas Farrell’s Carroll looks like a latter-day Dr Johnson in his melancholy awkwardness, contrasted by Derek Riddell’s dapper Barrie.
Both loom through the remembered childhoods of the distinctly-acted adult subjects; Judi Dench’s abruptly defensive Alice, used to recognition through her fictional alter ego, softens with memories, unlike Ben Whishaw’s unforgiving, ever-questioning Peter.
These two fine performances are perhaps too fine for the script, like Michael Grandage’s colourful production. Close-up scrutiny overbears content which might gain from less detail and refinement. Still, there’s a story being told here and points being made that take audiences behind, and beyond, some famous pages.
Peter Llewellyn Davies: Ben Whishaw,
Alice Liddell Hargreaves.: Judi Dench.
Lewis Carroll: Nicholas Farrell.
James Barrie: Derek Riddell.
Peter Pan: Olly Alexander.
Alice in Wonderland: Ruby Bentall.
Arthur Davies/Reginal Hargreaves/Michael Davies: Stefano Braschi.
Director: Michael Grandage.
Designer/Costume: Christopher Oram.
Lighting: Paule Constable.
Sound/Composer: Adam Cork.
Dialect coach: Penny Dyer.
Wigs/Hair: Campbell Young.
Associate director: Timothy Koch.
Associate designer/costume: Lee Newby, David Woodhead.
Associate lighting: Rob Casey.
Associate sound: Yvonne Gilbert.