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Perennial fictional favourites Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan live on in adult minds long after childhood is a distant memory.

But what about the youngsters who originally inspired their magical tales of adventure, conceived respectively by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) and J.M. Barrie, both of whom nurtured close relationships with young children?

In 1932, the centennial of Carroll’s birth, Alice Liddell Hargreaves and 35 year old publisher Peter Llewelyn Davies really did meet, when shortage of funds compelled Alice, by then an octogenarian widow, to sell her original manuscript.

It’s this meeting which forms the starting point for John Logan’s 90 minute new play, which brings together Skyfall stars Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw (both on excellent form – with Dench conjuring a childlike wonderment as she remembers her girlhood talks with Nicholas Farrell’s stuttering Dodgson and Whishaw troubled and wounded by too much family tragedy).

It raises questions about the legacy of fame, the pain and pleasures of growing up, the true nature of the unusual friendships, but does so in a frequently overwritten and heavy handed manner as it intermingles real events in their lives with sections of the writings which immortalised and (almost certainly in the case of Peter) damaged them.

Christopher Oram’s dingy store room set lifts to reveal a beguilingly bright toy theatre which encompasses various layers of fantasy as Peter and Alice, their fictional selves and their literary creators mix factual snippets with fiction.

But, although Logan’s concept is intriguing, the Skyfall scriptwriter should be very grateful for the depth that the film’s M and Q bring to their performances in what would otherwise be a rather mundane exercise.

Noel Coward, St. Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4AU
Tube | Leicester Square
Until 1 June 
£10.00 - £57.50

Photo: Johan Persson


Peter and Alice - theatre review: Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw star in this intriguing play at the Noel Coward
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