I was fortunate to see Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward theatre in London in 2013, and I can honestly say it remains one of my favourite performances and plays. Judi Dench was, as is to be expected, extraordinary and Ben Whishaw so completely embodied the character and acted with such an intensity that I just had to watch him when he was on stage. It was a powerful performance that I wish I could see again.
We stayed in London for the weekend of the show and, on the Sunday, I paid a visit to Foyles where I saw the play on the shelf and bought it without hesitation. I read it in the same day, reliving the performance and reminding myself of those poignant lines that had struck me powerfully the evening before.
I hadn’t read the play since and it was Jen Campbell’s February wrap up video on Youtube where she talked about it so passionately that I was inspired to read it again.
The premise of Peter and Alice is a compelling one – in 1932, at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition, Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Peter Llewelyn Davies meet. The inspiration for Alice in Wonderland comes face to face with the inspiration for Peter Pan. Reality, enchantment and storytelling combine as this brief meeting between two people explores what being the inspiration for two very famous characters in literature has meant.
The play raises interesting questions about the power literature has over us, literature versus reality, growing up and childhood. Peter and Alice, even though they are now adults and have lives of their own, feel trapped in these childhood versions of themselves that were immortalised in literature. Not only are the adult Peter and Alice in the play, but their fictional, childhood counterparts have their roles too, as figments of Peter and Alice’s memories. It’s an excellent element to the play. These are characters as real as Peter and Alice, their lines just as powerful, poignant, and important. Barrie and Dodgson also appear, these figures who, whether they meant to or not, have powerfully affected the lives of two people. Whether it was for good or otherwise is an important aspect of the play, and is the lingering question at its end.
Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan are both such iconic characters in children’s literature: many of us read the books as children, or saw the Disney film adaptations. It’s fascinating to see the other side of the story, the darker side which shows us fairy tales and stories may not be so wonderful. I studied Alice in Wonderland in my final year at Uni and learnt more about Dodgson – I don’t think it’s necessary to know anything about him or Barrie prior to reading this play, but it definitely added something to my experience I think.
Overall I can’t recommend reading this play enough. While my reading (and subsequent rereading) is supported by my memories of the play, it’s a wonderful piece of writing in its own right. Lines are powerful and thought-provoking; the play is imaginative and compelling.
Have you read Peter and Alice? Have you read any of John Logan’s other plays?