Peter & Alice with Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw
April 21, 2013 § Leave a comment
What do you write about a day you saw Dame Judi Dench live, on stage, speaking in THAT voice? What do you write to give the performance justice? I will start at the very end..or the beginning, I guess it all depends on where you are when you read this. The tickets to see Peter and Alice were purchased on the 4th July, 2012. Yes, that is almost a year ago and that is something you master living in London, planning your life well ahead of its happenings, hoping to still be alive or well enough to attend the event of your choosing. Months of waiting followed and then the day came as all days come – in its own time, right on time.
So here we have, Alice, who is Alice in Wonderland, and Peter, who is Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow up. The two have actually met in real life in 1932 at the opening of Lewis Carroll’s exhibition. Alice was 80 and Peter was 35. The play is based on what might have happened when they met and spoke, imagined by John Logan and put to paper, shown to Dame Judi and Ben at the Skyfall filming and the rest is history as they say.
Alice and Peter, two people who supposedly had the happiest childhoods imaginable, two youngsters who inspired JM Barrie and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) to write the stories of Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland respectively, on stage are seen as they are: tired, lost, old, heartless, naked and psychotic, melancholic and hurt. Children who grew up too soon, children who had to grow up too soon and who both struggled with fame and the dragging shadows of the weird and intense (and highly inappropriate for their age) relationships with their respective writer ‘friends’.
At the very end the playwright suggests that Alice lived better with the impact and the effect Lewis Carroll had on her, having died peacefully in her sleep at 82, suggesting Alice embraced the girl Lewis Carroll adored and loved so much, even if not molesting her physically, the love he felt for when she was merely 10 scarred her for life, the deaths of her children however left her believing and living her life regardless of the darkness she saw; meanwhile Peter, the shell-shocked alcoholic, jumped in front of the train at 63 never being able to recover from the deaths he saw at WWI, the deaths of his parents and his brothers, the gloom and the money of JM Barrie or uncle Jim who is shown on stage as someone who pushes Michael Davies, Peter’s brother and most likely the real Peter Pan, to commit suicide by drowning with his lover friend Rupert Buxton.
Having come home the first thing I did was look up Alice Liddell, the daughter of Henry Liddell, the new dean at Christ Church, Oxford and the Llewelyn Davies Boys, five boys under JM Barries’ guardianship after the early deaths of their parents, and Michael Davies who was the most likely inspiration for the Peter Pan character, described as a genius with a devilish streak in his eyes, and who had by far the most ambiguous and intense relationship with uncle Jim. There is no real proof when it comes to child molestation or pedophilia in both Peter’s and Alice’s life stories, but there are speculations and I think John Logan did a great job manoeuvring his way around the ‘what might have really happened then’. Instead of fuelling disgust and hatred, it leaves you thinking about life and what it really means to grow up and be an adult.
Perhaps I should say something about the actors and the stage, the topics they unravelled but clever words fail me today. Not to say that it was not brilliant, the acting of course, was superb, and I did believe the story, but something was not there – the decorations and scenography did not inspire, and a few dialogues did not come across as natural and believable but overall, it left me feeling and thinking and so it did the job. I will end with Ben Whishaw’s words near the end of the play as this is the phrase that stuck with me and carried me home:
“When I look at my own children, Mrs Hargreaves, I think… I think I know what childhood is for. It’s to give us a bank of happy memories against future suffering. So when sadness comes, at least you can remember what it was to be happy.”