Arts

‘Peter and Alice’ at the Noël Coward Theatre

'It's press night...even tonight’s cast must be on their best behaviour. All in all, it is a very important affair.'

Would The Real Peter and Alice Please Stand Up!

It’s press night. I’m aware that I am among very important people. I am also aware that I am not so important and it’s imperative not to do, or say anything inappropriate, as I would be tempted to in such serious situations. I am to remain silent and keep my head down.  Expectations are high as various prestigious icons (Sting, David Walliams, Charles Dance, Felicity Kendal, and Tom Hiddleston are to name a few) grace the auditorium with their presence. Consequently, even tonight’s cast must be on their best behaviour. All in all, it is a very important affair.

The stage is set: we are in an antique bookshop, witnessing an imagined conversation during an actual chance meeting between Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Peter Llewelyn Davies in 1932. Both inspired the materialisation of classic children’s literature icons, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Initially, the pair are in disbelief at the notion of such an absurd coincidence; equally conducting themselves in a hostile manner. However, it is not long before the sarcastic banter and witty remarks subside and begin to descend into a more serious tone.

As the play unfolds, we are made aware of the lives of the real Peter and Alice; marred by the aftermath of World War One. Consequently, they are left to wander aimlessly with the anticipation of finding their own Neverland/Wonderland. They appear simultaneously sympathetic and critical towards each other, as the shared, harsh reality of having to live in the shadows of their fictitious counterparts is unearthed. It becomes increasingly apparent that the association with these iconic figures is a burden that has resulted in a desolate life; the fantasies and desires of their youthful selves stolen from them.  As Dench confesses, when Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan were born, ‘a part of them ceases to exist’.

Writer John Logan delicately interweaves childhood memories, narration from the respective children’s stories, letters from J.M. Barrie to Peter’s father, as well as landmarks in Peter and Alice’s adult lives. I personally enjoy the way in which he does this, as it shows just how complex it has been for the real Peter and Alice to deal with the blurring boundaries of their real and fictitious lives. However, it can mean that the script seems somewhat wordy, and at times heavily poetical, as the characters don’t just say what they mean. Instead they speak in simile and hyperbole and with a rhythm and style, much like the narration of a children’s story. Nevertheless, it is delivered seamlessly by an enchanting cast, and as a result, they are rewarded with a standing ovation.

Despite its bleak outlook into their melancholic lives, the play provides us with some hearty truths about reality and illusion.  We appear to be encouraged to realise that it’s imperative to hold on to our own dreams of Wonderland and preserve a childish innocence, in order to fend off fears of a potentially fruitless future: a daunting realisation for those like myself, who are preparing to leave university and take another step towards adulthood.

Peter and Alice runs until 1st June 2013.

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