“Peter and Alice” is the second play in the Michael Grandage season after the excellent “Privates on Parade” and, as usual, Grandage delivers the goods. Tony award winner John Logan’s new play is a complex narrative about childhood innocence and the pains of growing up, fantasy and harsh reality, and in its wake disillusionment and personal failure.
Logan imagines what the encounter between an elderly Alice Liddell Hargreaves with a middle-aged Peter Llewellyn Davies must have been like when they meet each other at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932. Liddell is of course the original for Alice in Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and Davies one of five brothers who were the model for Barrie’s “Peter Pan”. They both exchange their versions of what happened when they inspired the two famous fictional figures, and what happened when “the boy who didn’t want to grow up” did indeed grew up and Alice in Wonderland lost two of her three sons in World War I. At the end of their stories is one peaceful death at the age of 82 and at the other a suicide by jumping in front of a tube train at Sloane Square.
At first I was disappointed by Christopher Oram’s simple set design of an old bookshop in the first scene but this of course was a stroke of genius, as the tattered old shop gave way to the fantasy land of Peter Pan and Alice, inhabited by the fictional counterparts, Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie and other important figures from their past. The play juxtaposes the re-telling of what might have happened in real life with bits and pieces from the children’s books. This montage is curiously effective, especially when talking about the strange relationships between Carroll and Barrie and each child respectively or setting Peter Pan’s cry of ‘To die would be an awfully big adventure’ next to the suicide by drowning of Peter’s brother Michael. Strong acting throughout, not only by the leads Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw but also by Nicholas Farrell (Carroll), Derek Riddell (Barrie), Olly Alexander (Peter Pan), Ruby Bentall (Alice in Wonderland) and Stefano Braschi who convinces both as Peter’s dying father, suicidal brother and Alice’s future husband.
A fine production throughout but not exactly an evening of light entertainment.
At the Noel Coward Theatre until 1 June 2013