Directed by Michael Grandage
Pros: Dame Judi Dench and Ben Wishaw directed by Michael Grandage; what more could you want? And let’s not forget author John Logan, whose special gift is to talk to the heart of the audience by portraying the essence of human frailty.
Cons: I was so immersed in the story, I would have liked a little more about the latter years.
Our Verdict: A wonderfully moving story presented in such a beautiful, genuine way that it draws you in emotionally and leaves you bereft at its conclusion. Don’t be put off if you are not familiar with or have not enjoyed the stories of Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland.
I could not have been more excited when I sat in my seat at the Noel Coward on Thursday evening, for so many reasons. John Logan’s previous play Red
was the first play to bring me to tears, so I was anticipating some tremendous writing. Michael Grandage has established himself as a great director and I enjoyed everything I saw under his artistic direction at the Donmar Warehouse
. I was lucky enough to have seen Ben Wishaw in a cracking and highly acclaimed Hamlet at the Old Vic
some years ago, so I was keen to see him return to the stage after his film and television success. And Dame Judi Dench needs no introduction as one of the finest actors of both stage and screen – this play has all the ingredients for a wonderful theatrical experience and it did not disappoint.
The scene is set in the back room of what appears to be a book store. Peter Llewellyn Davies (Wishaw) meets Alice Liddell Hargreaves (Dench) as they await their appearance at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932. Though the two are so different, they hold one thing uniquely in common – they were the protagonists in two of the most famous children’s stories of their time, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland respectively. A troubled Peter challenges Alice to remember not just the impact on her childhood, but the many years that have passed since, and confront the reality and bereavement that comes with the loss of innocence. In doing so, Peter also faces his own demons and what is unveiled is a heart rendering story of growing up and the heartbreak of realising that though their stories are immortal, they themselves are not.
There are so many wonderful tools employed to bring the story to life, but there will be no spoilers divulged here, including the roles of the supporting actors who were all perfectly cast and superb in illustrating the conversation between Peter and Alice. Olly Alexander and Ruby Bentall have a magical presence on the stage. The wonderful Nicholas Farrell and Derek Riddell play their characters with grace and strength. Grandage works his magic in stage direction, and we are quickly immersed in another time and place. Dench is nothing short of brilliant, so natural and easy across a plethora of ages and emotions that it is easy to believe she is Alice herself. Wishaw is beautiful, marrying the stoic 1930s English genteel with a poignancy and vulnerability that evokes genuine empathy. Dench and Wishaw portray their characters with such palpable honesty, each look and expression ingenuous and meaningful. These two are amazingly believable even through some complex and emotionally charged moments.
Against this back drop of first class talent, for me it is John Logan who steals the show. His writing possesses such a special, transcendental quality that is so hard to describe. Behind the resignation and maturity of Peter and Alice there lies a heart rendering vulnerability, teetering precariously between reality and the tales of childhood, between the lives they have lived and that of their sobriquets Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. This play explores the departure from childhood, and with it the loss of innocence, a theme that is almost universal. It does so with a little sentiment, a little romance and at times a little cruelty, somehow managing to speak straight to the emotional core of human frailty, tugging the audience into empathetic connection, drawing us to the heart of the play. I left the theatre with a quivering lip and my hand on my heart. This play has left me looking at life, and particularly my children, in a slightly different way. It is a beautiful play and highly recommended on every level.
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Peter and Alice runs at the Noel Coward Theatre until 1st June 2013.