Review – Peter and Alice – Michael Grandage company at Noel Coward Theater


GRANDAGE: So it’s going to be a season of five plays, and I thought we would mix old plays with new.
WRITER: Excellent! And we can use the star power of the big names to encourage people to see the new shows!
G: Well, just one new play, actually, but with Judi and Ben on board that will pack the house.
WRITER: Ooh ooh let’s get all meta and make them play OTHER FICTIONAL CHARACTERS. Well, real people, but fictional characters at the same time.
G: Hmm, sounds intriguing. But they only want to do ninety minutes. You can make it short, right?
WRITER: Sure, no problem! We’ll explore …
G: Make sure they each get a chance to give some nice speeches.
WRITER: Um, yeah, I can do that.
G: And it had better be some fairly intriguing fictional characters. Popular. With some in jokes about fame. The audience will love that.
WRITER: I can make the whole thing about the disjunction between fame and reality …
G: Works for me. Okay, I need to have another meetings. Get me the script by September, and a working title in time for the announcement and publicity.

And so, I imagine, was born the play that became Peter and Alice – looking good on paper (“the characters that inspire to works of children’s fiction speak to each other about their experiences”) and with seemingly everything it needed for success (money, publicity, actors who truly were skimmed from the highest echelons of the British theater scene and had done film as well so as to pull in the punters), and with a highly attractive running time that seemed guaranteed to keep Ben and Judi free to do other works on the side if they felt like it. And the house overflowethed and there was a queue around the corner waiting for returns and the standing spaces were full as well.

And … there they were, his skinniness and her lordliness (she lords rather than ladys on the stage), sort of inhabiting these recreations of Alice Liddell Hargreaves (inspiration for Alice in Wonderland) and Peter Llewelyn Davies (inspiration, or perhaps just namesake, for Peter Pan). Playwright John Logan certainly researched them, but, per the results, without ever finding a way to bring them to life. Davies certainly had many personal tragedies to endure at a young age, and Hargreaves seems to have overcome any possible inappropriate behavior from Dodgson to have become perfectly boring; both of them really suffered during World War I.

But I couldn’t really find much to grab on to in this slight work. Fantasy is more fun than reality, and we should accept our childlike natures? Book authors can be a bit odd? Celebrity doesn’t save you from misery? It almost felt like an act of desperation when Logan added Alice (of Wonderland) and Peter Pan into the mix; clearly, the lives of Alice L and Peter D themselves just didn’t have enough material to fill the evening even when the authors were added to stretch it out.

When all was said and done, my memories of this play will be watching Peter’s brother Michael commit suicide in a lake rather than face the disapproval of his guardian (as J.M. Barrie became) because of his homosexuality; and discovering that Peter had thrown himself in front of a train at Sloane Square. There really wasn’t much else, and I’m afraid for me the thrill of a Dame Judi and His Hotness Wishlaw aren’t enough to compensate for a poor script (not that if they were individually or together on stage again I wouldn’t likely still go, they are really that good). At least the tickets were 10 quid and, of course, it was all over fairly quickly (though it seemed at least thirty minutes longer than it really was). And, gosh, I kind of want to take the Wonderland bits of the set home with me. But otherwise … it was just a big, big waste of an opportunity to do something amazing. Oh well, new plays: you win some, you lose some, and at 90 minutes and 10 quid I didn’t really lose much.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, March 9th, 2013. It’s been extended to June 1st so if my review didn’t turn you off, don’t despair. Also, as with all performances in this series, “a limited number of £10 day seats will be released at 10.30am on the day of performance.”)

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19 Responses to “Review – Peter and Alice – Michael Grandage company at Noel Coward Theater”

  1. V Says:

    Thanks for your review. Where are the day seats located? In the stalls?

    • webcowgirl Says:

      Back of the stalls and back of the Royal Circle – pretty good seats in my opinion, especially for £10.

      • Liz Says:

        My mum is really keen on seeing this – what time did you arrive to get the day tickets and was there much of a queue?

        Thanks in advance!

      • webcowgirl Says:

        I bought the tickets several months ago so didn’t have to bother with the day queue. They go on sale at 10:30 and when I walk by every day at 10 AM there are usually about 20 people in line.

      • Liz Says:

        Thanks so much for the reply! Will try later this week.

  2. Free your mind and your ass will follow! Says:

    I enjoyed it more than you.

  3. Graham Dixon Says:

    Thanks for your intelligent and well written review. You saved me a lot of money (£60), time, frustration and, possibly, anger! I don’t go to the theatre for entertainment (reading is much more fun and cost effective) and, if I wish to be nourished artistically and spiritually, I go to classical music concerts.
    I shall keep coming back to your blog before I venture out to Theatreland again.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      It’s very kind of you to say this but the thing is there are plenty of £10 seats available. I’m happy to save people £60 or standing in zero degrees but … I’m hardly the definitive source for what’s good and bad out there.

      Why is it you prefer to go to classical music when per the site you linked to you you’re actually teaching acting?

  4. Alex Says:

    Just watched it and I agree with everything you note. A superficial, uneven and patchy play.

  5. Civilian Theatre Says:

    Totally agree with your review for Peter and Alice. Went to see it in previews. For fans of Barrie or Carroll it has the cardinal sin of not being good, not being bad – but being dull and lacking in imagination.

    I mainly blame the script but Grandage’s direction was so dull. It seemed like he just placed his characters in one place and then superglued their feet to the stage (and don’t even get me started on how rubbish I though Peter Pan and Alice in… were)

    Have reviewed as well:

  6. BillB Says:

    All the above are much too curmudgeonly. I was informed, entertained and amused. As were my friends and the rest of the audience. And there was no interval, so saved a tenner on the interval G&T. And we were out just after nine so plenty of time in the pub after to discuss and share our enjoyment. OK, Pirandello it ain’t (two authors, two characters, two people in search of an audience?) but it’s a very pleasant way to spend an evening. And I paid full whack for a stalls ticket. Guess I’m just one of them folk grown old without growing up.

  7. AManda Says:

    I thought it was over indulgent and boring and pretty much agree with your review – saw it last night and was V disappointed, not entertaining at all. When the Alice character complained “what can I sell next” ie to heat her enormous house – I wanted to shout out your stately home love… to much reportage and me me me speeches DULL. And annoying it will sell out because of the cast.

  8. Cyndy Trimble Says:


  9. Stanspal Says:

    Might have been just about all right as a New Year’s Day cosy evening viewing on BBC4 – but I agree – dull, dull, dull.

    And how many dramas do we have to have about real people which end with another character saying of them “and xxxx time after this, they died.” Is this supposed to make us feel sad? Or is it that we can’t be left with any ambiguity? In this case it was a bit dishonest too, as Llewelyn Davies threw himself under a train about 30 years after this meeting…

    Such a pity as the acting was mostly good and in general I rate Michael Grandage very highly…

  10. JC Says:

    Spot on – no meat in the [for me] £60 sandwich.

  11. Tim Says:

    Webcowgirl – how could you mispell Mr Whishaw’s name? Twice – so you must have really thought it was Wishlaw. OK: wait for him to be knighted (inevitable) then you can just refer to him as Sir Ben which is easy.

    • webcowgirl Says:

      You’re right, I have misheard it each and every time. How frustrating! Now I’m going to have to go through and fix every reference to him in my blog!

  12. Says:

    Are you a bitter unsuccessful actress? I assume so… WONDERFUL PLAY…. Ignore the ignorant

  13. Review – Peter Pan – The Companies at The National Theater | Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl's London theatre reviews Says:

    […] there are some really interesting points to be made, and some strong characters, and all of the World War One overhead lurking beneath the surface, and just really so much you can do …. but there are children to entertain but not overwhelm, […]

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