Saturday, March 30, 2013

Judi Dench: Peter and Alice, Noel Coward Theatre, review (TELEGRAPH)

Peter and Alice, starring Skyfall's Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw, is a moving theatrical chamber piece which couldn't be further removed from the Bond blockbuster, says Charles Spencer.

By Charles Spencer7:00AM GMT 26 Mar 2013

If you had to imagine a work that was the complete antithesis of the brilliant Bond blockbuster, Skyfall, it might resemble Peter and Alice, a moving, 90-minute theatrical chamber piece about childhood, growing up and the pressure of literary immortality.

Yet it has been written by John Logan, one of the scriptwriters on Skyfall, and stars Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw who play M and Q in 007’s latest adventure.

They both give beautiful, heart-catching performances in this haunting play that sounds profound notes of loss and grief.

The piece was inspired by a small footnote in literary history. In 1932, Alice Liddell Hargreaves, who was the model for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, met Peter Llewellyn Davies, one of five brothers into whose lives JM Barrie insinuated himself, and who inspired Peter Pan. Barrie wrote that he created the young boy who never grew up “by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame” but it was Peter who bore the name of the character that was to haunt and trouble him throughout his unhappy life.

The play shows Peter and Alice meeting in the dusty backroom of a bookshop where Alice is to open an exhibition celebrating Carroll’s centenary. Peter is there because he is a publisher and hopes to get a book out of her. At first Alice, now 80, is haughty. “You’re presumptuous,” she tells Peter, and no actress is more capable of suggesting withering disdain in just two words than Dame Judi. But Peter perseveres and they talk about the way their lives have been marked and to different extents marred by the writers and the books that trapped them in immortal youth.


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