John Logan’s Peter and Alice gets Australian Premiere in Adelaide
World-famous gay playwright John Logan’s 2013 West End triumph Peter and Alice is being given its Australian premiere by Independent Theatre, in its 100th show. Peter Burdon spoke to artistic director Rob Croser.
John Logan was something of a “jobbing playwright” when he first met Rob Croser and David Roach, way back in 1993. Rob and David, founders and mainstays of Adelaide’s Independent Theatre for the whole of its 30 years, knew something of Logan, IT having produced his Never the Sinner the year before. IT went on to mount the world premiere of Logan’s Hauptmann in 1994. Another world premiere, of The View from Golgotha, was offered in 1996, and Logan came to Adelaide to help prepare the production. Then one Saturday morning, chez Croser and Roach, came a telephone call that was to change Logan’s life. It was Oliver Stone, and the film was Any Given Sunday, a screenplay Logan had written that his agent had sent off “on spec”.
Twenty years on, with triumphs on stage and screen behind him, Logan is now one of the world’s most sought after writers, but he’s never forgotten the enthusiasm of a small amateur company in little old Adelaide. He gave IT the Australian premiere of Red a few years ago now, fresh from Broadway and the West End, and now he’s done it again with Peter and Alice, whose debut season at London’s Noel Coward Theatre starred Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw, both fresh from the hugely successful James Bond film Skyfall, for which Logan also wrote the screenplay! “John has always been enormously generous to us,” says Rob Croser. “There’s an even greater connection this time around because the germ of the idea that became Peter and Alice actually began here in Adelaide.”
The year was 2004, when, with encouragement and mentoring from John Logan, Croser wrote and directed a new play of his own, Daniel Deronda. “John came to visit for the show and we were talking about the whole business of adaptation,” Croser explains. “Daniel Deronda was adapted from a George Eliot novel, for instance, and he said that he was interested in doing something on Lewis Carroll and Alice in Wonderland, because he was interested in the dramatic possibilities of doing something about the burden children face at being identified as the inspiration behind major literary works. I’d coincidentally been reading a book about the young girl who inspired Alice, Alice Liddell, and I’d been enormously struck by a line towards the end of the book that recounts a meeting at a Lewis Carroll centenary event between Alice Liddle, who was in her 80s, and a much younger Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of the brothers who’d inspired JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, and their discovery of how much they had in common.
“You could see John’s mind exploding with ideas,” Croser laughs, “but it didn’t look like anything would come of it, especially when Johnny Depp starred in Neverland a couple of years later, and it looked like JM Barrie had been ‘done’. Then one day John rang up and said ‘Guess what I’ve just written?’, and at about the same time Michael Grandage, whose Donmar Warehouse had produced Red, asked if John had any other pieces. It’s a fantastic story on its own.”
From a little story towards the end of a book, Logan has devised an imaginary conversation between two extraordinary people. “He’s incredibly inventive,” says Croser, “and he’s so sensitive in the way he brings across just how difficult life was for Alice and Peter. They were both famous, in their own ways, but they were both tragic figures also. Alice Liddle lost her sons in the Great War. Peter Davies lost both his parents to cancer in his youth, one of his brothers in the War, and another committed suicide. And the comparison with Peter Pan is unavoidable there, too. He wilfully refuses to grow up, and one result of that is that others grow up, or grow old, and they always leave him. The play is very much about the tragedy that’s under the glossy surface.”
Croser’s casting has been one of the hallmarks of his leadership at Independent and he’s cast two popular locals in the leads. “I knew who I wanted straight away,” he admits. “Pam O’Grady is one of the most experienced actors I know. She’s got the wisdom and sensibility you get over the years, but at the same time she has the wide-eyed delight of a ten year old in the memory scenes. And she also brings an expert director’s eye to the role. She seemed the perfect Alice to me. And I also knew that I wanted Will Cox to be Peter. He was wonderful in The Magnificent Ambersons last year and I know he’ll be able to do it. For all his youth he’s got the range and the sensitivity to do justice to the role.”
“It’s plays like this that remind me why I love theatre so much,” Croser says. “The audience is invited to go into the fiction with the performers and share the journey. And this is quite a journey!”
The Australian premiere of Peter and Alice is on at the Space Theatre, August 21-30. Book at Bass.