Peter and Alice is a one-act play which is a fictional account of the real-life meeting of Alice Liddell Hargreaves (Alice in Wonderland), in her 80s, and Peter Llewelyn Davies (Peter Pan), in his 30s, at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932.
The play takes place mostly in one room while Alice and Peter wait to open the exhibition, but they are also joined by their fictional Alice and Peter counterparts, as well as the authors. The real Alice and Peter are making sense, with each other, of the strangeness of having these famous fictional selves, what it means to grow up when that part of you can never grow up, and how it has affected their lives. The real and imagined characters interact with each other as part of this making sense, but also in a way which pushes the real Alice and Peter.
As you’ll know if you are aware of the Llewyn Davies family in particular, this isn’t a happy story. Both Alice and Peter struggle with and against their fictional selves, but while Alice is able to accept the Alice of Wonderland, though not altogether happily, it is Peter who can not integrate it with the difficulties of his life. Peter is searching for ‘truth’, and so can not lean into his fictional self in the way Alice can.
In the original performance, Judi Dench played Alice and Ben Whishaw played Peter. Whilst I don’t normally like book covers with photography, particularly of actors, I’m really glad my edition has their faces on the front because it meant I heard Judi Dench’s voice for all of her parts. I would have loved to have seen her perform it as she, and Maggie Smith, has the perfect hard-edged-with-vulnerability-underneath voice for the role.
Some of the dialogue feels a little over-done and clunky, the kind that takes a Judi Dench to make it sound like speech rather than Writing. But there were also some scenes that were incredibly well-written and powerful, particularly the fictional Alice and Peter shouting the real Alice and Peter’s weaknesses/shortcomings at them, Peter’s father giving custody to Barrie, and, most heartbreakingly, finding out what happened to Peter’s brother Micheal. The scene with Micheal is especially good at weaving together the different characters, their own dialogue, and text from the original Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.
This is the kind of play that is easy to read and imagine even if you haven’t seen it performed, so it’s also a good place to start if you’re not used to reading plays. It will pack the most punch if you don’t know much about the real Peter and the real Alice, but it still hurts when you know what’s coming.