You wait generations for a new play to be premiered in the West End and then two come along at once.
Following Peter Morgan’s The Audience, a highly entertaining, slightly obsequious love letter to royalty starring Helen Mirren, comes John Logan’s high-concept play about Peter Llewelyn Davies and Alice Liddell Hargreaves — better known as the characters they helped inspire when they were children, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.
Michael Grandage’s production is worth seeing alone for two immensely moving performances by Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw. Each captures the particular tragedy of adults whose lives are forever defined during childhood.
But Logan’s dream-like approach to his subjects, who are seen meeting in an encounter that actually took place in 1932, is more distracting than illuminating.
There is a hugely powerful moment when the real-life Alice’s and Peter’s flaws are exposed by their fictional child counterparts (Olly Alexander and Ruby Bentall). But there is an artifice that is more laboured than inventive. Logan revives authors Lewis Carroll (Nicholas Farrell) and J M Barrie (Derek Riddell) and has them contribute to this apparently spontaneous biographical work. And the effect is all too knowing.
Still, Dench and Whishaw, in their contrasting ways — Dench by shedding a walking stick and decades, and Whishaw by being weighed down by disappointment and First World War memories — deliver a mesmerising melancholy.