peter and alice

14:00

On Thursday evening I went to see Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre in London. This new play from John Logan (most well known for the Tony Award winning Red and blockbuster Skyfall) was absolutely remarkable. It featured Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench in the title roles of Peter Llewellyn Davies and Alice Liddell Hargreaves, with support from Olly Alexander as Peter Pan, Ruby Bentall as Alice in Wonderland, Nicholas Farrell as the Reverend C L Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), Derek Riddell as J M Barrie and Stefano Braschi in varying roles.

I loved the way that the play began - Whishaw simply walked on stage. There was no dimming of the house lights, nothing. He just walked on, lit a cigarette and looked a little apprehensive. The instant hush from the full house set the tone for the next ninety minutes - every actor commanded the stage with the class expected of such a performance, and not a peep was heard throughout. It felt to us, as an audience, that we were truly a part of this meeting, as there was no formal commencement of a play. It was simply a meeting between two people that we happened to be privy to. Perhaps it is this that led to the play being so effective, so poignant. We were not merely watching a play, but were a part of it.

Logan's choice to stage a 90 minute play without an interval was a brave one, but at no point did I find myself reaching for my watch. Centring the story around this single meeting, with both Peter and Alice reflecting on how and why these characters were created, and how their lives had been affected by such creations, was a genius turn from Logan. We were worrying about nothing else but these stories; we felt every emotion that they felt. When they laughed, we laughed; when they cried, we cried. Simple, yet hugely complex. A perfectly written piece that reflects Logan's talent, clearly showing why his work wins awards.

I echo the comments made about it being a joy to watch two of Britain's finest actors, one nearing the end of their career, the other merely beginning. Whishaw is simply wonderful. His turn in The Hour (BBC) was what brought him to my attention, and he is most definitely deserving of his recent BAFTA win. His portrayal of Peter was superbly haunting, beautifully highlighting his torment over the events of his past and the constant shadow of Peter Pan hanging over him. There is a reason that Dench continues to be cast in such high profile roles: she is astounding. She switched seamlessly from the eighty year old Alice Hargreaves to the young Alice Liddell in split seconds; at no moment was I questioning the age of the character I was watching. The intensity of emotion that she portrayed was astonishing. Together, they were a delight.

If Olly Alexander is not thrust into the spotlight in the near future, then we've missed out. He was convincingly childish and wonderfully annoying as the ever-young Peter Pan. Ruby Bentall, already known for her television roles, played the too-good Alice very well, though her performance was not, perhaps, as remarkable as those of the other actors. Farrell and Riddell played their roles with the appropriate sincerity and drew attention to the loneliness and heartbreak that was vital to the stories of their characters. Braschi adapted to each of his roles excellently; it did not feel as though only one actor had played each of his roles.

The final scene of the production was the most poignant of all, leaving me frozen with shock. Peter and Alice are left in the bookshop, with their 'shadows' (in the form of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland), discussing whether you learn to live with a character or you let it rule your life. The final lines make it clear that Alice learned to live with her shadow, but Peter could not. In short, this was the best play that I have ever seen. World class.

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