With 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)