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Review Round-up: Whishaw & Dench are Peter & Alice

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John Logan's Peter and Alice starring Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw premiered at the Noel Coward Theatre this week (25 March 2013).

The play tells the story of when the original Alice in Wonderland, Alice Liddell Hargreaves, came face to face with the original Peter Pan, Peter Llewelyn Davies, at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932. It marks the second of five productions in Michael Grandage's West End season.

With a cast also including Nicholas Farrell and Ruby Bentall, it runs at the Noel Coward Theatre until 1 June 2013.

Michael Coveney

…For as long as the play allows them, they give beautifully judged, melancholic but never sentimental performances, Dench ever practical in her snappy delivery and spiritual ache, Whishaw providing a much needed bolt of emotional fire and angst as his life crumbles backwards and forwards; he’s the most wonderfully watchable actor… Grandage marshals all this with his customary aplomb, and the scenic switches are delightful, quoting the drawings of John Tenniel and Arthur Rackham, but never forging those worlds into a new vision…

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

…It’s an appealing prospect, but not one that translates into a beguiling evening... The leads’ performances are touching... Each has a detailed intensity, and there are some poignant moments between them. John Logan’s play is packed with reminiscence... The production is attractive but at times laboured, and the writing is occasionally overblown... There are some elegant reflections on the allure of fantasy, the bruising effects of being a muse and the difficulty of leaving adolescence behind. But it’s too rhetorical – stuffed with questions, aphorisms and passages of effortful dialogue. Peter and Alice is short – less than an hour and a half, without an interval – yet feels flabby. It’s not Grandage at his best, even if for fans of the stars it may still be a treat.

Michael Billington

…Watching them interact is a genuine, civilised joy. But in all honesty I got more out of the performance and Michael Grandage's production than I did out of John Logan's 90-minute play, which is an elegant literary conceit offering surprisingly few revelations… One of Judi Dench's great strengths… is her ability to combine ecstasy and melancholy, witnessed in abundance here... Whishaw is equally memorable as Peter... Grandage directs the actors with his customary unobtrusive excellence… Christopher Oram's designs also wittily use the framework and painted flats of a Pollock's Toy Theatre to whisk us back into the worlds of Neverland and Wonderland. It's not a play that shocks or startles by its insights, but the reward lies in watching Dench and Whishaw recreate the agony and the ecstasy of inherited fame.

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

…They both give beautiful, heart-catching performances in this haunting play that sounds profound notes of loss and grief… this is a play that breaks the surly bonds of naturalism – as it should in a work inspired by fantastical fiction. In Christopher Oram’s enchanting design the drab backroom gives way to Alice’s Oxford, and Peter’s Neverland with sets that resemble a Pollock’s toy theatre… There is a particularly telling dramatic moment in Michael Grandage’s poignant and spellbinding production… The losses both characters endured during the First World War are movingly captured… It’s a beautiful and searching play that will live long in the memory.

Paul Taylor

…the piece, to my mind, is also laboured and over-written and, though it does not accuse the authors of actual paedophilia, it smears their reputations on the basis of little hard evidence… Dench and Whishaw are incapable of giving bad performances and he brings to Peter his wonderful capacity to make sensitivity and anguish compelling and she lends to Alice her brilliance at combining a sense of tart, witty combativeness with a reverberant depth of bruised humanity. But the proceedings reminded me at times more of oratorio than drama and the dialogue often sounds forced... The evening strikes me as that true rarity: a Grandage dud.

Libby Purves
The Times

…The result is shattering in its intensity. For much of its 90 minutes, Michael Grandage’s latest production had me in a Pool of Tears as bad as Alice’s… Dench is unmatchable: old Alice stiff and snappish in the bookshop, suddenly shedding years to skip upstage into the cardboard fantasy, young beneath white hair, matronly frock swinging free. If you are growing old, or love the old and recognise their youthfulness, it breaks your heart open. Hard to know whether without Dench Logan’s play will endure: maybe its power is as evanescent as Grandage’s production and its breathtaking toy-theatre staging.

Claire Allfree

…the swoon casting of Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw aside, this play about the real life inspirations for Alice In Wonderland and Peter Pan is hardly the stuff of Hollywood blockbusters… Logan beautifully particularises the psychological trauma of two adults whose childhood selves were on one level never allowed to grow up. All the greater pity then that Grandage delivers an uncustomary fussy production that accentuates rather than leavens the more contrived, self-conscious elements of Logan’s sometimes extravagantly wordy script.

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

…Dame Judi and Mr Whishaw are good, she almost Queen Motherly these days, he so sensitive, so irredeemably moist, that he could do with sponging. But the play, while admirably high-minded and interesting, is inevitably a bit doom-laden… several passages of a bleakness that is poetic and beautiful… Mr Logan’s script is eloquent but not always theatrical… Well done, but not exactly a ray of hope for Easter, this one.


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