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Peter and Alice – the wonder of Neverland


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At what point do we grow up? This question pierces the heart of John Logan’s play Peter and Alice, which was sparked by the report of a 1932 meeting of Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Peter Llewellyn Davies in a London Bookshop. They were there for the opening of a Lewis Carroll centenary exhibition.

Hargreaves, of course, was the muse for Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, just as JM Barrie used the Davies boys as inspiration for his Peter Pan. In a bookshop storeroom surrounded by towering bookshelves and dotted with wooden packing boxes, the Independent Theatre’s new production  sees the adult Peter and aged Alice waiting to give their centenary speeches. Recognising in each other a similar fate, together they rake over their pasts – and face the shadow of their childhood selves.

The twin stories of lonely adults attracted to children not their own – Barrie as Uncle Jim and Carroll as the Reverend Dodson – hover on the creepy. Logan’s script masterfully juggles the power relations over the vulnerable young.

Adelaide’s Independent Theatre director Rob Croser’s past collaborations with the US playwright have wrought powerful theatre – for example in 2011, when Logan came here to work on the Australian premiere of his play Red, in which David Roach smashed the role of the artist Mark Rothko. Logan writes for the movies as well, and his adaptation of Brian Selznick’s graphic novel for Martin Scorsese’s luminous film Hugo also revealed sympathy for exploring in advancing age the mutability of truth and realism, youth and memories. Again, it’s the clock and the mirror.

When you enter an auditorium to find a robust set crafted with care and attention, you can feel confident. In the Independent Theatre’s production of Peter and Alice, the performances of all cast members are worthy of mention: Will Cox’s adult Peter immediately hooks you in to caring for him, and Pam O’Grady’s old lady Alice is assured – the ebb and flow between them and their younger selves is magical.

Domenic Panuccio could not have been cast better as the Rev Dodson, and Roach swings it as Barrie. In a triple support role, Laurence Croft convincingly portrays each fellow, particularly the aching young Michael Davies. Though it means a bit of a spoiler for the theatricality of it, the youngest cast members cannot go unmentioned, for they bring the energy and counter-balance required in the play: Emma Bleby charms as fictional Alice, while Ben Francis as Pan brings a physicality that is welcome and well-sustained.

With Wonderland and Neverland so pivotal in our collective imaginations, this poignant tale is worth telling, and it’s told well here.

Congratulations to the Independent Theatre on its 100th production. May there be another ton.

The Independent Theatre’s Peter and Alice is playing at the Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, until August 30.

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