John Logan’s new play ‘Peter and Alice’, currently being staged at the Noel Coward Theatre, is receiving predominantly outstanding reviews, and deservedly because, quite frankly, it is the best piece of theatre I have ever seen.
Not just because of the iconic performances of Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw, the beautiful set, Michael Grandage’s terrific direction or Logan’s genius script: it is also because of the profound effect the play casts upon its audience. The concept alone is baffling, and Logan has done exceedingly well to bring the aforementioned theatrical components together to compliment it.
The story is biographical, set around the real stories of Alive Liddell, on whom Lewis Carroll based ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, and Peter Llewellyn Davis, on whom J. M. Barrie based Peter Pan. We begin with the pair engaged merely in witty dialogue, but as conversation deepens their relationship becomes more volatile and they encourage each other to regress through their childhood memories. We meet the characters of Peter and Alice as children – who we already know through our own upbringings and which conform to the Disney stereotypes – with the presences of Carroll and Barrie constantly on stage both physically and metaphorically.
I think what made Peter and Alice so utterly devastating (in its own devilishly brilliant way) was the truth behind the awful lives of these two people denied the delight of the characters they inspired. The implications are manifold, the most shocking being that Carroll and Barrie were in some way to blame for their subjects’ disillusionment with life, and we begin to question why these men forced these children into friendship, and why they desired that they would remain suspended in youthful innocence.
Many go to see the play, I think, purely because Whishaw and Dench represent a lot of what is ‘classy’ about British acting. Perhaps, they are typecast, with Dench assuming her usual role of the feisty older woman, and Wishaw the emotionally intense sociopath. But there is a reason why they are typecast for these roles: they are just so perfect for them, and neither disappointed me.
Both have surpassed my expectations, which were exceedingly high in the first place. Dench and Wishaw did not remain in this character the whole time, but throughout their conversation of chronological memories of the men that made them famous, they regressed to a childish state of permanent excitement and curiosity. Both regressed believably and energetically, and then as quick as a flash would become gravely adult again. The actors who played Barrie and Carroll were also marvellous, encapsulating the dualistic nature of the play: on the one hand reminiscent of joyful summery childhood memories, then on the other deeply emotionally unsettling, forcing the audience to reflect upon the implications of being immortalised in childhood.
I would urge anybody, whether a fan of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland or not, to see this thoughtful, evocative and utterly unforgettable take on the woes of life.