WhatsOnStage Logo

Michael Coveney: Peter and Alice, Tom, Ruth, Simon and Damian

WhatsOnStage logo
John Logan, author of Skyfall, has alreay signed up to the next two James Bond movies - unlike director Sam Mendes, who says that he'll get on with the musical of Charlie and  the Chocolate Factory and other projects - so he's no doubt planning yet more future life for Ian Fleming's sardonic spy as channeled through Daniel Craig.

But his new play, Peter and Alice, is an even more complex attempt to resurrect two other iconic mythical creatures - Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan in Neverland - through a projection of their older selves meeting in a bookshop in 1932, where they are embodied by Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw.

Logan's last play, Red, was a biographical study of the painter Mark Rothko. It's all part of what you might call the Peter Morgan school of playwriting in which real historical figures are reanimated by well known actors who then become so identified with those figures that they partly usurp them in the popular imagination: Michael Sheen as Tony Blair, Helen Mirren as the Queen. Alfred Molina's Rothko is as real to me still as his paintings are in the Tate.

There's nothing new in this: many of us think of Henry VIII as Charles Laughton, Benjamin Britten as Alex Jennings (in the Alan Bennett play) - and now, of course, Alan Bennett as Alex Jennings - Abraham Lincoln as Daniel Day-Lewis, and so on.

It's got to the point where you sit next to an actor in a theatre and wonder where his or her doppelganger has gone. Hello again, Tom Hiddleston, I thought at last night's opening at the Noel Coward, as the actor sat down in a seat in our row next to Ruth Wilson, where's Henry V parked his bike?

Mind you, the temporary nature of these things is underlined by remembering that Jude Law, currently domesticated with the delightful Ruth, will be the next scourge of Agincourt, later this year in the Michael Grandage season.

But who will be the next Boris Johnson? We now cast our political and cultural celebrities for the next film or TV drama before they've even announced the project is underway. The Mayor of London was given a tough grilling - "You are a nasty piece of work, aren't you?" - by journalist Eddie Mair on Sunday morning's Andrew Marr programme, and there is already casual speculation (by Matthew Norman in yesterday's Independent) that he will be played in the movie by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

But who will play Eddie Mair? The softly spoken but relatively unknown Scot is a longstanding hero of mine for his humorous, sharp and understated stewardship of the PM programme on BBC Radio 4; in fact, I admire him as much as I do Martha Kearney, who hosts the lunchtime news programme on the same station. When Martha met Eddie is obviously the next big media rom.com, and I can see them being really well played on screen by - oh, let's see now - Simon Russell Beale and Emma Fielding?

SRB was in the front stalls last night, too, along with Harriet Walter, Richard Eyre and David Hare (who told me the sad news that designer Hayden Griffin has at last lost his long fight against illness), Penelope Wilton, producer Judy Craymer and Judi Dench's daughter and grandson, Finty Williams and red-haired Sam.

Mind you, the show only runs for 90 uninterrupted minutes, so there was little chance of checking the full complement, though it seems as though a bunch of "overnight" critics again pre-empted the first night proper by slipping into previews. What price opening night glamour without the cream of the Critics' Circle?

My last show before Peter and Alice was a programme of short plays written by ten year-olds at the little Theatro Technis in Camden Town on Sunday afternoon.

No hob-nobbing with the stars there, you might think, and you'd be so wrong: I was squashed among Damian Lewis, Helen McCrory, Anna Chancellor and director Jonathan Kent, all of them supporting the excellent work done by Rosalind Paul's Scene & Heard project with under-privileged schoolchidren.
The kids had written duologues, and then expanded them to three-handers with the intervention of a bizarre or unlikely character played in all ten plays by the same actor, the sublimely clownish and comically elongated Ben Moor, an actor who can animate an inanimate object with more feeling than a Schubert song.

And here's the thing: none of these characters, in any of the plays, are "real" people or, indeed, people at all. They are plastic bags, football boots, tarantulas, monster trucks, chocolate biscuits, sauce bottles and sycamore seeds.
The resultant theatre is sheer surreal fun and nonsense, with no recourse to historical reference and no worries for the audience about matching the acting to real people we've seen and read about. This means that every performance is definitive and complete, and unlikely to be improved upon by Jude Law or Daniel Day-Lewis in future incarnations.

Ben Moor was a hilarious giraffe and a very funny, very moon-like Moon. But as a Nurofen Tablet, and indeed a Shimmering Pink Nail Varnish, he was something extra special indeed. And his costumes, made by Lizzie Bardwell and Julia Bunce, as remarkable and inventive as anything you will see on the West End stage this or any other week.


Tagged in this Story