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Posts Tagged ‘Olly Alexander’

I’m one of the few people who took against John Logan’s last play, Red, about Mark Rothko. The first hour was a rant by the artist, by the end of which I had lost the will to live. This play is a whole lot better.

Peter was one of five Llewelyn Davies boys who were befriended by J M Barrie and the source of his famous character, Peter Pan. Rev. Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll wrote his first Alice story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for Alice Liddell, having first told her the story on an outing. This is the fame they live with and share. In the play they meet on the centenary of Dodgson’s birth when they are 35 and 80 respectively. Davies, now a publisher, uses the opportunity to encourage Liddell, now Hargreaves, to write her memoirs, which sends us on a journey to meet the respective writers and their characters.

It’s a multi-layered play which tells the stories of these real people, whose lives were both touched by the tragedy of loss – Alice of two sons and Peter of two brothers – but also of their relationships with both the writers and their characters and the impact of their somewhat unusual fame. This opens the play up as we flash back in time and meet Carroll & Barrie plus the fictitious Peter & Alice. The writing isn’t entirely even – it does lag at times, despite the short 90 minute length, and Alice has all the best lines – but it’s an inspired idea and unfolds intriguingly.

One of the chief pleasures of Michael Grandage’s production is seeing Judi Dench, as captivating as ever, and Ben Whishaw, who has grown into such a fine actor. The age difference between the actors is almost the same as their characters. There’s excellent support from Nicholas Farrell as Dodgson / Carroll and Derek Riddell as Barrie. Olly Alexander & Ruby Bentall bring the fictional characters alive impressively. Grandage’s regular designer Christopher Oram has created a superb transformative design.

Alice is a role worthy of Dench’s talent (her last West End outing was the dreadful Madame de Sade!) and Peter is a role worthy of Whishaw’s first proper West End showcase. It’s great to see a new play open in the West End, with the real buzz of full house signs and autograph hunters crowding the stage door; most start life in the subsidised sector these days. It’s also the only new play in Grandage’s five-play first season, so success might help get us more new work next time.

In a delicious twist, both works of fiction were staged in this very theatre. Another fact new to me was that Logan also wrote Skyfall, in which both Dench & Whishaw of course acted. Adele didn’t do the music, though!

If you can get in, you should.

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It doesn’t take much to fill the Bush Theatre – c.2500 in a month-long run like this; about as many as three nights in a West End playhouse, two at the Olivier or one at the Palladium. Add in a couple of people ‘off the telly’ and it’s tickets become hot indeed. If only the play were as hot. The Bush has an extraordinary track record in spotting good new plays, but it’s certainly failed here I’m afraid.

The Aliens by Annie Baker is an insubstantial and slight piece about a pair of losers who hang out in the back yard of a cafe and their relationship with each other and the teenage waiter who engages with them when he pops out to empty the rubbish. That’s about it really. It’s the opposite to Wednesday’s The Big Fellah – nothing really happens. Of course, some reviewers are talking ‘Chekovian’. Well I’m talking ‘bollocks’.

So much talent wasted – another great redesign of this tiny theatre, by Lucy Osborne; Peter Gill,the master of small-scale himself, directing; and fine acting from Mackenzie Crook and Ralf Little as the losers, though ironically it’s young Olly Alexander who takes the real acting honours.

A rare disappointment at the Bush.

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