A night out at the theatre with Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland

Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench in Peter and Alice

When Ben Whishaw stepped out onto the stage at the Noel Coward Theatre just after 7:30 pm, Friday, April 26, 2013, so began my first “real” theatre experience– and to have it pass in London’s glittering West End made it all that more surreal.

I have seen a few high school plays. One time I caught a production of Oliver at the local theatre (which I don’t quite remember as I was still in elementary school at the time.)  I don’t mean to say that these are examples of “fake” theatre; only that don’t we all dream of the Broadway experience? of seeing plays in New York City and London, home of the Globe? And for the past few years I’ve sat in beautiful British Columbia while Jesse Eisenberg put on his own brilliant opi and Andrew Garfield starred in an acclaimed production of a classic American existential tale. Coincidentally, all the aforementioned runs took place during exam period and the months leading up to it.

So as you can imagine, the high-pitched shriek that erupted from my being when I read that Ben Whishaw would be headlining an original play in London during my exchange in Paris— was a long time coming. And I immediately set to wrangle persuade my friend into going with me (I succeeded).

I nearly missed our bus to London but managed to make it in time thanks to some intense speed-walking through Paris’ metro system and its dirty streets. To be honest, it was good to have that bit of exercise because the next 9 hours I spent sitting in a bus, snacking occasionally.  At one point, we did stop here:

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I don’t really associate relaxing and enjoying with Charles Dickens, but alright

We arrived in London at oh, just before 5 am. Later on that morning, we picked up our tickets and admired the signage on the theatre’s exterior (and located the stage door for scientific reasons)

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After a well-needed shower and a (too)quick afternoon nap at the hostel, it was time. Dressed to the nines (because really, how else would one dress for a West End play starring Q and M and written by one of the Skyfall writers?), we set off into the balmy London evening (both times I’ve been in London it’s been sunny) and into the Noel Coward Theatre, where there was quite the queue of people who hadn’t been fortunate enough to acquire tickets, waiting in the hope of no-shows.  I must say, I felt quite grateful, walking through the door, ticket in hand.

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The view of the stage from where we were sitting–  the bookstore where Peter Llewellyn Davies and Alice Hargreaves met.

We found our seats and as usual, once the people in front of us had sat down, E and I switched seats. Naturally, we took some very classy selfies….and then a hush swept over the crowd as the first character appeared.

I might not be an expert of theatre, of the complex ways of dramatic presentation and expression, but I do think that a play, like all forms of art, should evoke emotion, create a world within itself, and, as Shakespeare knew so well, entertain.  And I am so pleased to say that Peter and Alice accomplished all that and more 🙂

An imagined take on the 1932 meeting between Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Peter Llewelyn Davies (the inspirations behind the now-“Disneyfied” characters), the play blurs the lines that separate adulthood from childhood; the private from the public; reality from fantasy.

Although it is Alice (Judi Dench) who has more lines, for me, the real emotional focus of the play is Peter (Ben Whishaw). It was apparent even in his stance– slightly hunched over, drowning in clothes a few sizes too large– that here was someone who had experienced the ragged and terrible parts of life and had not escaped unscathed. The real Peter Llewellyn Davies was plagued throughout his life by his otherworldly namesake, and, as an adult, by his memories of the war, and all this torment and desperation was conveyed beautifully in the minute acting, loaded dialogue, and clever use of light and space.

Upon post-play reflection over hot chocolate, I realized that every little bit of the play had been sublime. All the actors made their mark, the script was beautiful and rich with meaning, and no element of design or movement wasted. It was a real pleasure to see Dame Judi and (perhaps a future Sir) Ben portray the childhood versions of their respective characters and to see the characters interact with their fantastical selves as well as with the men who transformed them.

What had me blinking back tears throughout the majority of the play was the hope and desperation that accompanied the suffering of the principal characters. To see Peter, caught up in memories of childhood adventures near the finale, stand stage front and centre, slowly crumple back to reality was one of the most unforgettable and heartbreaking moments. By the time Peter and Alice left the bookstore, only collective sniffling punctuated the silence. Harmless fairy tales indeed.

Needless to say, I was in quite the heightened state of emotion as E and I hurried to get to the stage door (remember the morning location?) It was quite chilly so I was shivering a bit from the combination of cold and ~feelings. We actually didn’t have to wait that long– soon enough, my favourite actor emerged. I couldn’t get any clear shots of him because of the crowd, but E did (and she needs to send them to me!)

I did get this though:


me with BEN WHISHAWflower

no photoshop here, folks

I was so excited/nervous/high from emotions-cold that my brain wasn’t really working properly and so instead of expressing my rage at The Hour being axed and my admiration of his work, all I could do was thank him for all of that.

After he’d left, we lingered there a while longer to see if anyone else would emerge, and then this guy came out and told us that Dame Judi was to exit from the front of the building and so our small crowd rushed around and arrived just before she stepped out. She didn’t stop to take photos with people, so I had to settle for blurry shots:

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She did take the time to sign the objects that were thrust at her though 🙂 (I gently pushed through)

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M and Q. Who needs 007 anyway?

And that’s a wrap! I finally got to meet some celebrities– who just happen to be amazing actors. I might want to live in London just so I can see plays like this one on a regular basis 🙂

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