Before I saw Peter and Alice, I knew three things about the play. I knew it was about Peter Llewellyn Davies, and Alice Hargreaves, the children who inspired the much loved characters Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland respectively. I knew also that the cast included Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench (and I was very excited indeed!) Finally I knew that the plot explored a meeting the two of them had in real life, one that took place in a bookshop. From these three things I had assumed that the play would be a two- man discussion in a bookshop exploring the inner turmoil and existential angst that came from being immortalised at such a young age. What I was not expecting was for 10 minutes into the play, the set of the scruffy bookshop to fall away and the magic scene of wonderland and neverland to greet my eyes.
The play did cover the two protagonist’s troubled lives, but in a way I had never imagined. The characters of Peter Pan and Alice appeared like shadows as they followed their adult counterparts around the stage, and the struggle between growing up and facing reality versus going down the rabbit hole, were wrought out. The story travelled backwards into childhood memories and the beginnings of the stories, with the adults Peter and Alice becoming once again caught up in the fantasies they had inspired.
It was a fascinating tale of what the immortalisation of childhood innocence can do to a person. Peter in particular, who cried to the figure of J.M Barrie onstage, that the only reason little boys don’t grow up is because they die, found being a grown up figure of the boy who never grew up difficult to deal with. It was Peter who ultimately maintained that we should stay resolutely put in reality, and it was Peter who committed suicide at Sloane Square tube station, we were told in the closing lines of the play.
Ben Whishaw’s performance as this troubled young man was breathtaking as his struggle between being caught up once again in the games of neverland, and at the same time maintaining a grown up attitude resulted in monologue’s that had me mesmerised and on the edge of my seat. It was a heartbreaking and startling accurate portrayal of a man who had had a difficult life and never quite got over the pressures of having a namesake that represented a lost moment of time.
Alice on the other hand, held out her hand to Peter and encouraged him to join her in Wonderland, where she escaped to in her mind as she continued her days in solitude at the top of a big empty house, and ended her time peacefully in her sleep.
The wonders of childhood fantasy were ripe in this production and there were comments about how adults never live for the present, but are constantly looking over their shoulders. But the memories were not without pain, and in revisiting them it became clear that things were not as rose tinted as they might have seen.Although it was a sad tale about the difficulties of growing up and reconciling with an image of yourself that you no longer recognise. It was nevertheless a love story to the beauty of childhood innocence, and a reminder to always believe in fairies.