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.”)