Peter and Alice (play) by John Logan
A review by editor Kate Lomas Glendenning
Peter and Alice is John Logan’s play about Peter Llewelyn Davies and Alice Liddell Hargreaves, two of the most famous muses in children’s literature. They are more commonly known as the children whom inspired J.M Barrie’s novel, Peter and Wendy and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The play begins in the back room of the Bumpas bookshop in 1932 where an older Peter and Alice meet; this is a fictional account of their discussion from the effect of ‘being’ Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. This is a dark and heart breaking play which explores the burden of fame at a young age, the innocence of youth and controversial questions which have constantly surrounded the relationships between the authors and their muses.
What the reader may find disturbing about this play is the cold, harsh reality of the discussions of Peter Llewelyn Davies and Alice Liddell Hargreaves. One may start to understand how the burden of fame affected their entire lives, how in effect Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland became shadows of their own literary selves. As an example, Peter Llewelyn Davies was only ever referred to as Peter Pan; “Peter Pan joins the Army” declares the newspaper title, “Peter Pan marries” and even after he committed suicide, “Peter Pan: The Boy Who Never Grew Up is Now Dead.” Peter and Alice emphasise the burden that was placed on them since childhood as though at only this time were they truly happy, or as Logan so eloquently puts it, “I think I know what childhood’s for, it’s to give us a bank of happy memories against future suffering.”
Whilst Peter and Alice are the primary figures in the play, J.M Barrie and Lewis Carroll make appearances with the fictional Peter Pan and Alice. Their author and character ghosts re-enact and recall critical moments between them and their muses, allowing a more penetrating and critical view of the minds of each character. What may be interesting to the reader is how Peter and Alice view their respective relationships with each author when they were children and how naive they would purposely act. From an adult perspective and looking back, Peter declares that they were living the lives expected by the authors. To Barrie and Carroll they were flesh and bone, they were real and they could love them and hope to be loved back. This is where the play darkens, as reflected in Alice’s relationship with Lewis Carroll; their private conversations were riddled with hidden innuendos of what might happen between them since Alice is growing up. Discussing these and other issues between themselves, Peter and Alice analyse their characters and conclude that Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland were created out of loneliness; that Barrie and Carroll succeeded in writing down characters that would never age and could never leave them and would always be cherished. In the play, Logan doesn’t deeply explore the existing allegations against the authors in regards to the possibility of sexual abuse between the children and the authors. Peter and Alice were quick to squash all rumours of impropriety. Instead the play focuses on the damaging effect of ‘being’ Peter and Alice, the relationships between the children and authors and the pain of growing up.
I found this play to have tread carefully between historical fact and fiction. The discussions are intriguing and heartfelt about the burden of youth and fame and the realties of growing up. Painfully beautiful and heartbreakingly, this is a hauntingly unforgettable read.