Theatre review: Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre

PUBLISHED: 18:33 01 April 2013 | UPDATED: 18:33 01 April 2013

Judi Dench (Alice Liddell Hargreaves) and Ben Wishaw (Peter Llewelyn Davies) in Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre. Picture: Johan Persson -

Judi Dench (Alice Liddell Hargreaves) and Ben Wishaw (Peter Llewelyn Davies) in Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre. Picture: Johan Persson -

Copyright Johan Persson

New play that reunites Bond stars Dame Judi Dench and Ben Wishaw with Skyfall co-writer John Logan fails to live up to promise

There is an enticing array of ingredients thrown into the pot in this new play by Hollywood screenwriter John Logan, one of the co-writers of latest Bond flick Skyfall, and directed by Michael Grandage.

It features a heavyweight cast led by two of Skyfall’s stars in Dame Judi Dench and Ben Wishaw, and has an intriguing premise: a fictionalised version of an encounter between the real-life inspirations for Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan, Alice Lidell Hargreaves and Peter Llewelyn Davies.

This meeting really did take place, in 1932 when she was 80 and he 35, but what transpires in Peter and Alice is all Logan’s invention.

It gets off to a strong start, Dench and Wishaw enjoying some witty exchanges, but ultimately fails to live up to its considerable promise.

The principal problem is the script. It is wordy and lacks movement or vitality, going over and over the same themes – the loss of childhood innocence and the lifelong burdens of the leads’ associations with Wonderland and Neverland – without really igniting them.

The play is essentially one drawn-out conversation and it feels too long, despite being a relatively swift 90 minutes without interval.

It couldn’t be further from a superspy action flick, that’s for sure, and it left me wishing Wishaw would assume his Q guise from the Bond blockbuster and whip out some outlandish gadget to enliven matters.

It does have lush sets and fine performances, with some affecting work from Wishaw especially. His is the meatier part – much of the time Dench is seated to the side of the stage, while the troubled Llewelyn Davies explores his demons. Meanwhile, Olly Alexander brings some welcome light relief as a typically impish manifestation of Peter Pan, and Derek Riddell is convincing as J.M. Barrie.

But I’m afraid, by the closing stages, anything less than an exploding pen would have struggled to reel me back in.

* Peter and Alice is at the Noel Coward Theatre until June 1.

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