Peter Llewleyn Davis (J. M. Barrie’s inspiration for the character of Peter Pan) and Alice Liddell Hargreaves (Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for the character of Alice in Wonderland) meet before appearing at a public event organised by Davis’s publishing house. They ruminate on what being a muse has meant to them and their lives and the trouble it has caused them.
Peter Llewleyn Davies – Ben Wishaw
Alice Liddell Hargreaves – Judi Dench
Lewis Carroll – Nicholas Farrell
James Barrie – Derek Riddell
Peter Pan – Olly Alexander
Alice in Wonderland – Ruby Bentall
Arthur/Reggie/Michael – Stefano Bratch
Script – John Logan
Director – Michael Grandage
Set and costumes – Christopher Oram
Lighting – Paule Constable
Review by Tumnus the Faun, our Narnia Arts Correspondent
Dateline: Eternal Winter, but never Christmas
Dateline: Eternal Winter, but never Christmas
Mr. Tumnus was beginning to get very tired of sitting next to Him Indoors in the Upper Circle, and of having nothing to do; once or twice he had peeped into the programme Him Indoors was reading but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a programme,” thought Tumnus, “without pictures or conversations?”
So he was considering, in his own mind (as well as he could, for the heating in the theatre made him feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of going to the toilet would be worth the trouble of getting up and fighting his way back through the row of seats, when suddenly Judi Dench appeared on the stage.
There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Tumnus think it so very much out of the way to see that Judi Dench actually took a watch out of her pocket and looked at it, remarked “We won’t be late because we’re only on for 90 minutes, and as there is no interval at all, we’ll all be home nicely by 10pm”. Burning with curiosity, he ran across the stage after it, and was just in time to see her appear in a new play at the Noel Coward Theatre. In another moment, Tumnus followed Ms. Dench, never once considering how in the world he was to get out again.
The play went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then took a strange turn and dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Tumnus had not a moment to think about stopping himself before he found himself falling down a very deep hole indeed. Either the play was very deep, or it was very slow, so Tumnus had plenty of time as he went down to wonder what, if anything, was going to happen next. He looked at the sides of the hole, and noticed they were filled with cupboards and bookshelves; he took a jar from one of the shelves as he passed, it was labelled “Wonderful new play by John Logan starring Judi Dench and Ben Wishaw”, but to his great disappointment it was empty; far emptier than the Noel Coward Theatre which was packed out for the entirety of the play’s run already.
Down, down, down. Would the play never come to an end? “I wonder how many minutes its been so far?” he said aloud. “We must be getting somewhere near the centre of it by now. Let me see: that would be about 45 minutes I think--” Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Tumnus soon began talking again. “ThinButWordy will miss me very much tonight, I should think!” (ThinButWordy was the plot). He felt that he was dozing off, and had just began to dream that he was watching something interesting, when suddenly, thump! Thump! Down he came on a heap of psychoanalytical babble, and the play was over.
Suddenly he came upon a little three-legged table; on it was a script of the play addressed to Judi Dench and bearing the words READ ME. “Rubbish,” thought Mr. Tumnus, “everyone knows that Judi Dench never reads any of her scripts before taking a job”. It was all very well to say READ ME, but Tumnus was not going to do that in a hurry – he had never forgotten that, if you don’t read your script beforehand, it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later. However, this script was not marked “box office poison” so Tumnus ventured to taste it, and finding that it was dark, and bitter, and bleak, and full of angst, he very soon finished it off.
“What a curious feeling!” said Tumnus. “My childhood memories of long, golden summers down by the river with the Revd. Dodgson must be being polluted by the current apparent fascination for retrospective paedophilia”. He waited for a few minutes to find out if his memories were going to be polluted any further; “for it might end, you know, in me finding out that J.M. Barrie was an appalling predatory homosexual with a nasty thing for young boys”. Soon his eye fell on a little box that was lying under the table; he opened it and found in it a very small excuse for an evening at the theatre, even if the scenery was lovely. He watched a little bit, and was quite surprised to find that he remained terribly unimpressed with Mr. Logan’s new play. To be sure, this is what generally happens when a playwright has a major hit with his first one and is asked to write another one, perhaps with Judi Dench in mind, and while he watched it, Tumnus got so much into the way of expecting something to happen but finding out that it was really just a series of flashbacks in which the late 19th century fashion for being very chummy with young children was turned on its head and made into an object of repellent fascination by vast sections of the public, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for it to be suggested that the world was a different place back then and it was quite commonplace for single, middle-aged men to strike up close relationships with pre-pubescent children and sublimate their desires by writing fairy stories about them.
“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Tumnus, as the play got very dark indeed and it transpired that neither Alice nor Peter had had a very jolly time of it when they grew up. “Are we to sit here while Alice and Peter are joined on stage not only by Mr. Barrie and the Revd. Dodgson but also by their literary counterparts who are very probably only here to add a little bit of meta-dimension to the script because the author has already said what he wanted to say, which in all probability was not that much to begin with, and needs to pad the script out a bit?. I’ll try and say “How doth the little– ” and he crossed his hands on his lap and began to repeat it.
“How doth the little impresario
Improve his West End cred
To posit the grim scenario
That it’s all to do with BED!
How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws
And welcomes all the punters in
And glories in applause!”
“I’m sure those are not the right words,” said poor Tumnus, with a sudden burst of tears. As he said these words, his foot slipped, and in another moment, splash! he was up to his chin in hot water.
Contrariwise, it seemed to Mr. Tumnus that the play had shut up round him like a portmanteau, and although it was practically critic-proof because it had got Judi Dench and Ben Wishaw in and is practically sold out for the rest of the run (as had been mentioned previously), it was all much of a muchness and although it purports to hold a mirror up to the reality of childhood fame, the reflection doesn’t really show you very much of what anyone wants to see. Apart from Judi Dench.