Review – Peter and Alice, Noel Coward Theatre

Thursday 28 March 2013

PETER AND ALICE 560x205With the Whingers barely recovered from seeing Britain’s Second Most Inspirational Woman, Helen Mirren pass herself off as a 25-year-old QEII in The Audience we are now presented with Britain’s Most Inspirational Woman, Judi Dench playing Alice Liddell Hargreaves as a 10-year-old in John Logan’s Peter and Alice. Yikes!

Both Dame-led fantasies are selling out nightly. One can only suppose that a smart producer has spotted this latest theatrical trend and is currently scrabbling round for a script that will entice Dame Maggie Smith to don a baby grow.

This is the second play in the Michael Grandage Company season and Skyfall writer John Logan has embroidered around a real life 1932 meeting between Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland and Peter Llewellyn Davies (Ben Wishaw), who similarly inspired JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. And very fanciful embroidery it is too.

Opening in the decaying store room of a book shop the 80-year-old Alice meets the 35-year-old Peter as she waits to open an exhibition to mark Carroll’s centenary.

So, Skyfall‘s M an Q, a great set and a intriguing premise and initially a few amusing lines, things looked very promising, the prospect that the play might really take flight seemed a distinct possibility. But no, the only thing that really flies is the substantial set (and Olly Alexander who floats in as Peter Pan) which lifts to reveal an equally impressive huge Pollock’s style toy theatre (designed by Christopher Oram).

A dame and two proscenium arches, you might expect us to have been in seventh heaven.

Confronted by the authors (Derek Riddell as Barrie, Nicholas Farrell as Carroll*) and the characters they inspired (Ruby Bentall plays Alice in Wonderland), Peter and Alice then relive moments from their lives, musing on the problems of ageing, the tricky transitions into adolescence and adulthood, loss, grief, the hardships of letting go of childhood dreams and the problems their fame brought them. All potentially interesting, but despite the magical settings we found it static and frankly pondorous.

Andrew struggled to fall asleep hoping that his reverie, probably down a rabbit hole, might provide some excitement. Phil, despite the play only lasting 82 minutes, had his own White Rabbit moments, constantly looking at his watch. Spookily, one line “Always look at the clock” came as Phil was doing just that. Seems he was only obeying orders.

Maybe it’s just us, but some of the lines just sounded daft. Struggling to remember the name of Captain Hook Peter says “I can’t remember” Alice replies “You mean you can’t forget”. How annoying. The audience, presumably desperate for a comedy, roared when Dame Judi said, “Famous people shouldn’t be tiny, it seems dishonest”. Were we missing something? What does it mean? Why is it funny?

The wonderful Farrell (strangely we’d seen Mrs Farrell, Stella Gonet on stage only the night before) is given little to work with. Alice poses for photographs then joins him in the dark room to watch them develop. The play is careful to point out that indeed nothing did develop.

The characters interact, interrupt and pass comment on each other. Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland are frankly irritating, they’re strangely irritating in the books so perhaps that’s appropriate. But despite the misfortunes which were heaped on their real life counterparts we were left largely unmoved. Perhaps it should be seen as a warning to those who carelessly seek fame. Peter and Alice’s fame was unsolicited and brought a loss of their own identities and grief.

Mind you, we are only ever told any of this. This drama has little drama. We didn’t go for Logan’s Tony-laden Red either but this has even more talking and less slapstick.

We think this must have been a different play from the one the critics saw. Although reviews generally hovered around the three mark, the writers were curiously unbored. Some were even moved: Mark Shenton confessed that it left him “in tears of recognition” which was a surprise to the Whingers as they had no idea that he too had been an inspiration for a children’s character and hours have since been wasted puzzling which which one it might be: Tinky Winky? Agaton Sax? Miss Trunchbull? Captain Haddock we dismissed as too obvious.

When Peter Met Alice suggests there’s an interesting play to written on the subject. Sadly, this isn’t one. Death may be an awfully big adventure but it would have been welcomed with open arms in at least two seats in the stalls of the Noel Coward theatre on Tuesday night.


The Whingers grumpily decamped to a pub afterwards to salvage something from their evening. Bizarrely the Garrick Arms seemed to be playing the Skyfall theme on a loop. Andrew salvaged some amusement in the rhyming casting of Nicholas Farrell as Lewis Carroll and created a game to come up with similar coups. Their lengthy, silly list was whittled down – especially in the cold light of sobriety – to Christopher Biggins as Bradley Wiggins. We can’t wait for that one.

Rating (the extra glass is for the set)



12 Responses to “Review – Peter and Alice, Noel Coward Theatre”

  1. Katrina Says:

    That’s a shame. I thought it was be rather good.

  2. Braintree Says:

    It was so dull. I didn’t get why the audience were laughing either. I suspect they were drunk on Dench.

    Dennis Potter’s Alice (1965) and Dreamchild are far better depictions of the Alice and Carroll relationship as well as her coping with the fame of being Alice in Wonderland.

    The problem I had (I blame the historian in me) where did Logan get the claims that they were philandering drunks from? It seemed to be lots of ideas, that weren’t particularly interesting, thrown together. I think Alice Hargreaves and Peter Lllewyn-Davies aren’t interesting characters, as much as we would like them to be.

    A point that could have been made better in an article than an 82 minute play.

  3. KEB Says:

    Spot on! Twas DULL – the woman who threw up three rows in front of me provided far more entertainment (though nearly caused a domino of vomit around her)

  4. Mark Shenton Says:

    Thanks for the name-check! And glad that I’ve clearly provided you with more entertaining speculation than the play apparently did! Never mind that I didn’t mean that; it was tears of recognition for the human condition about oss and growing up…. and facing the end. (No, not of the play, which clearly couldn’t have ended soon enough for you…..!)

  5. Jim Says:

    It didn’t do anything for me at all. And for all the talk of the cheap seats for this season, every seat was occupied by grey haired posh people the night I went…. All for a bargain £10 for many of them. So much for attracting a young audience.

  6. Jim Says:

    “Tears of loss”

    What a load of pompous piffle.

  7. Kat Says:

    I was so disappointed when I read this, as I had it on the cards for the next week – I actually loved it. And yes, I had a cry too, although only after the curtain fell because I was too shocked by how bloody awful their lives were. Poor things. (And poor Whingers for sitting through something they loathed; nothing worse)

  8. Pip Says:

    Just seen it. her indoors liked it. I thought that cut to one hour a la Alan Bennett, it could have been an interesting diversion. But it is like an opera plot, worth about twenty minutes: in operas everyone sings the same stuff six times, hence the length. Here it was not the repetition but the sheer dullness of the writing.

    Audience loved it, whooped, hollered etc.

    We retired to the Angel across the street and had an excellent meal.

  9. Baldassaro Says:

    I thought the acting was good but the play wasn’t. I felt really sorry for Messrs Riddell and Farrell, who had Olympic levels of standing about to do while the main characters delivered long speeches, and as Pip comments above, nothing was said once if it could be said six times. However, we were diverted thoughout by commentry from a drunken Scottish lady sitting next to us – she loudly exclaimed “Oh no!” when it looked like Alice might reject her suitor, and was enthusiastically encouraging Peter to take Alice’s hand at the end. Some of our party enjoyed it more than others, but I think the nail was hit on the head by the teenage daughter of a friend – she thought Peter was a bit of a drip and wished he’d stop moaning. I concur…

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