‘Of course that’s how it begins: a harmless fairy tale to pass the hours.’
Welcome to the world premiere of Peter and Alice by John Logan, produced by the Michael Grandage Company
When Alice Liddell Hargreaves met Peter Llewelyn Davies at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition in 1932, the original Alice in Wonderland came face to face with the original Peter Pan.
Judi Dench plays Alice and Ben Whishaw plays Peter in John Logan’s first new play since Red, which won six Tony Awards in 2010. In Peter and Alice, enchantment and reality collide as this brief encounter lays bare the lives of these two extraordinary characters.
‘This is a continuation of a strong relationship with John Logan the writer that started on Red at the Donmar. His next play goes darker and deeper, taking up multiple themes in one scenario - which is that the real-life Alice in Wonderland did briefly meet the real-life Peter Pan in a bookstore in 1932. In Logan’s imagined discussion these two real-life figures talk, among other matters, about the trauma of being something that the public plays onto them, and how each of them have coped with it in very different ways. The audience gets the joy of receiving all the affection and visual sensation of revisiting two beloved fictional characters through the prism of their real, darker selves.’ Michael Grandage
In the backroom of the Bumpus bookshop at 350, Oxford Street a nervous-looking man in his thirties, Peter Llewelyn Davies, waits anxiously for the guest-speaker at the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition, whom he is to introduce – 80-year-old Alice Liddell Hargreaves.
A publisher by trade, Peter wants to commission Alice to write her memoirs and plans to use his particular circumstances to persuade her. They share a unique bond, for both Peter and Alice were the inspiration for two of the most famous figures in children’s literature – Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.
But while Peter encourages the older woman to open a door onto her childhood, Alice would rather forget. Despite her age, she proves a formidable character, rebuffing Peter’s advances and the young man struggles to make a connection.
Though Alice may be done with the past, it isn’t done with her and very soon reality and fantasy collide as both Peter and Alice are plunged into a world largely of their own imagining…
Together they journey through the dark recesses of the authors JM Barrie’s and Lewis Carroll’s minds, through the pain and loss of the First World War, to adulthood, all the while hoping to emerge unscathed on the other side. Alice may know the way to Wonderland but can Peter join her there?
Director - Michael Grandage
Set & Costume Designer - Christopher Oram
Lighting Designer - Paule Constable
Composer & Sound Designer - Adam Cork
Casting Director - Toby Whale
Wig & Hair Designer - Campbell Young
Production Manager - Paul Handley
Company Stage Manager - Sophie Gabszewicz
Deputy Stage Manager - Clare Fisher
Assistant Stage Manager - Oliver Bagwell Purefoy
Dialect Coach - Penny Dyer
Props Supervisor - Celia Strainge
Costume Supervisor - Stephanie Arditti
Head of Wardrobe - Tim Gradwell
Head of Wigs & Make-Up - Gemma Flaherty
Deputy Head of Wardrobe - Charlotte Stidwell
Wardrobe Assistant - Rachael McIntyre
Associate Director - Timothy Koch
Associate Set & Costume Designer - Lee Newby
Associate Set & Costume Designer - David Woodhead
Associate Lighting Designer - Rob Casey
Associate Sound Designer - Yvonne Gilbert
John Logan received the Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics’ Circle and Drama League awards for his play Red, directed by Michael Grandage. The play premiered at the Donmar Warehouse in London and at the Golden Theatre on Broadway. Red has subsequently been seen in more than 80 productions across the USA and in over thirty foreign countries.
He is also the author of more than a dozen plays, including Never the Sinner and Hauptmann. His new play I’ll Eat You Last premiered on Broadway in April 2013.
As a screenwriter, Logan has been three times nominated for an Oscar and has received a Golden Globe, BAFTA and WGA award. His film work includes Skyfall, Hugo, The Aviator, Gladiator, Rango, Coriolanus, Sweeney Todd, The Last Sumurai, Any Given Sunday and RKO 281. He is currently writing the next two James Bond films.
The following is an extract from Dominic Cavendish’s interview with John Logan, published in The Telegraph, 19th March 2013
As with Red, the idea for which hit him on encountering Rothko’s Seagram murals at Tate Modern in 2007, so Peter and Alice was prompted by a chance find, [John Logan] explains. Thumbing through a copy of a biography called The Real Alice, Logan came across a mention of a meeting at Bumpus bookshop, Oxford Street, between Alice (then 80) and Peter (then 35). It took 20 years after that discovery, ‘in Adelaide of all places’, for the play to reach fruition. The resulting multi-character drama will interweave fact and fiction and take wing across the worlds of Neverland and Wonderland.
Quite a task and a responsibility, given how treasured those tales are, and how wary one should be about misrepresenting the dead. ‘It’s incredibly difficult,’ he admits, ‘when you’re dealing with historical or literary material. The exultation lies in finding the poetry – but you can’t act in bad faith. You can only torque history so far before it snaps.’
The true story of the five Davies brothers, whom JM Barrie befriended in Kensington Gardens and became a surrogate father to, is as heartbreaking as the art they inspired in innocent, happier days: the eldest, George, died in the trenches; Michael, the second youngest, committed suicide aged 20; and Peter – the middle child – threw himself in front of a Tube train in 1960 at the age of 63.
The case of Alice Hargreaves (née Liddell) is a little cheerier – although she lost two sons in the First World War and wound up so cash-strapped following her husband’s death that she sold off the original 1864 manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.
The play will inevitably focus on how its two principal characters came to be overshadowed by their ever-youthful literary incarnations and by the men who moulded them into fiction. Logan is after universal themes too, though.
‘With Red I was interested in the passing of a generation and the relationship between fathers and sons. With Peter and Alice, the organising principle for me in a way was: what is it to grow up? What do you gain, what do you lose? Is there a moment when you can say to yourself 'I am no longer a child’?’
Peter and Alice by John Logan (Oberon, 2013)
The text of the play
The following books were in the rehearsal room for Peter and Alice:
Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens – Illustrations by Arthur Rackham
JM Barrie and The Lost Boys – The Real Story Behind Peter Pan – Andrew Birkin
Peter Pan on Stage and Screen 1904-2010 – Bruce K. Hanson
Arthur Rackham – A Life with Illustrations – James Hamilton
The Real Alice – Anne Clark
The World of Alice – Pitkin Guides
Alice in Wonderland – Through the Visual Arts – Gavin Delahunty
Alice Illustrated – 120 Images from the Classic Tales of Lewis Carroll – Jeff A. Menges
Lewis Carroll – Anne Higonnet
Lewis Carroll – Thames & Hudson Profile
Lewis Carroll – Photographer – Helmut Gernsheim
Tenniel’s Alice – Eleanor Garvey
Toy Theatres of the World – Peter Baldwin
Thirties, wears a ‘conservative suit’. A thoughtful and articulate man, he may look nervous but his apparent frailty belies a searching intelligence and persuasive rhetoric.
80-years-old. A poised and stately older woman, though she walks with a stick her mind remains strong, her observations sharp – ‘She is like iron'. Beneath her armour, however, is a vulnerability and fear of old age.
Middle-aged. ‘He’s slanted, awkward, partly deaf and painfully shy.’ A gifted storyteller with a great command of the English language, he suffers from a stammer, which is worse when he’s nervous.
Middle-aged. ‘He’s a stunted, sad, inspiring Scotsman.’ Another wordsmith, like Carroll he’s an intoxicating but lonely figure. Capable of extreme kindness and acts of generosity, he can be equally cutting and cruel.
An eternal child – ‘The boy who wouldn’t grow up’. ‘He’s full of bravado and nerve and looks exactly as you imagine Peter Pan to look.’ Charming and effervescent, his scorn for the weakness of others, especially adults, borders on contempt.
10-years-old. ‘She’s a bold and curious girl.’ More sympathetic than Peter Pan, she too delights in stories, continually asking questions about the world around her. She and Peter Pan ‘interact, examine, imitate, and shadow’ their real-life counterparts.
Middle-aged, Peter’s father. A barrister by profession, he loses his job when he becomes ill with terminal cancer. Suspicious of Barrie’s interest in his family, he’s anxious about the future for his wife and five sons.
Twenties, Alice’s suitor and eventual husband. ‘He’s a good-looking, athletic, hearty young man.’ From a privileged background, ‘Reggie’ is enthusiastic and nervous in equal measures and desperate to win Alice’s affection.
Twenties, Peter’s younger brother. ‘He’s a beautiful and poetic young man, fragile.’ The true real-life inspiration for Peter Pan, he’s also Barrie’s favourite. Michael is devoted to him, in spite of his occasionally jealous and unkind comments.
Education Associate Dominic Francis provides an insight into the cast and Creative Team’s rehearsal process for Peter and Alice
The first day of rehearsals for all the productions in the Michael Grandage Company’s opening season start with a ‘Meet and Greet’, an opportunity for everyone involved – cast and creative team - to meet one another. Standing in a circle, people take it in turns to introduce themselves, saying their name and role on the production.
Artistic Director Michael Grandage welcomes everyone, highlighting the importance of the occasion – the first day on the making of a brand new play. He hands over to designer Christopher Oram, who presents the model-box. The design has several ‘reveals’ that Michael asks everyone to keep secret.
Staging the play completely within the bookshop, the main location, had been considered, but Michael and Christopher wanted to release the characters into a larger world. Referring to the play’s source material - Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and JM Barrie’s Peter Pan - Christopher comments: ‘Both books are a journey from reality to fantasy.’ Early on he wants a suggestion of something strange entering the real world - for example, the silhouette of a rabbit’s ears flitting across the frosted glass of the bookshop door.
Christopher and Michael refer to the ‘remarkable illustrations’ in both books - John Tenniel’s in Alice and Arthur Rackham’s in Peter. These were an enormous source of inspiration to the design, Christopher eventually settling on the idea of a full-scale toy theatre as a metaphor for childhood. This will include large cut-out pieces, flown in and out, against backdrops depicting everything from a country house to ‘No Man’s Land’. The backdrops will be a combination of illustrations and period etchings.
A member of the cast asks the inevitable question: Will the fictitious Peter fly? ‘Yes’ is the answer - or at least, that’s the plan. ‘So obviously it’s going to be quite a big tech!’ says Michael. He comments on the challenge of creating such a magical world within the confines of a rehearsal room, with just a mark-up on the floor.
Author John Logan is present throughout the first week of rehearsals, returning in the fifth and final week before previews begin. He talks briefly about the origins of Peter and Alice, for which he first had the idea twenty years ago, although he didn’t actually start writing the play until 2010. John prefaces his comments by saying: ‘There’s no such thing as a frivolous play.’ But of Peter and Alice in particular he reveals: ‘I knew it would be an ordeal’. He might not have undertaken it without the support of Michael, following their successful collaboration on his previous play, Red, at the Donmar Warehouse. ‘I wasn’t going alone into the dark wood.’
The play discusses personal grief, suggests John. He reflects upon the desolation within it, highlighting the ‘scorched earth’ of the landscape - both physical and emotional - and the ashes of the characters’ lives. ‘It’s important how you balance that amount of grief and tragedy with comedy,’ he comments. ‘The juxtaposition.’
The tone, observes Michael, is found in the detail. ‘We need to be quite light tonally in rather a lot of it.’ He wonders how an audience will react and, more importantly, ‘Where they can be let in?’ Michael refers to the ‘Hah!’ moments in plays – that instance when they start to breathe. In Peter and Alice he focuses on ‘the fantastic moment of transformation within the story’ - the ‘click’ moment between the two protagonists. ‘The play begins by investigating these two characters,’ says Michael, ‘and then their worlds explode.’ For him Peter and Alice ultimately ‘offers up something for an audience to learn’. Through the experience of the play there are ‘opportunities to be quite analytical’ and he’s curious to know what the cast took from the piece.
There’s an opportunity for the actors to discuss their response to the play following a half-hour break, during which many of them are measured for their costumes - fittings will take place over the coming weeks. When the company reconvenes Christopher talks briefly about costuming the characters, referring to two worlds – the historical world and the fantasy one – and acknowledges the ‘archetypal depictions’ of both Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. For the real-life Peter’s costume he’s opted for a ‘non-matching outfit’: ‘A tweedy brown-shoe look rather than a black shoe one.’
The actors then discuss their research into the characters, a sharing of information. Michael takes a consistent view on this type of work: ‘Back story never killed anyone.’ He comments on the fact that the characters are based on living people, now deceased, and therefore there are real-life references. While Michael observes the need to ‘build a level of authenticity’, John highlights the fact that he has written a fiction: ‘It’s an act of story, not biography or reportage.’ The actors will ultimately create a ‘fictive’ world.
With regard to JM Barrie and the real-life ‘Lost Boys’, Michael poses the question: ‘How far did it go?’ The actors refer to various books they’ve read, biographies of both Barrie and Lewis Carroll, many of which contradict one another’s findings. ‘The truth is we don’t know what actually happened,’ comments Michael. ‘Therefore we have a blank canvas to make choices.’ John reflects on both authors: ‘A well-adjusted genius would never have written Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland. Both characters are about anguished yearning.’ Michael refers to such characters in the play as ‘ghosts’. They’re on stage, in the picture, and therefore ‘have a view’ on what’s happening around them.
He outlines the structure of the working day, ten till four with an hour for lunch, before deciding how best to work it: ‘How this play will rehearse itself.’ ‘I tend to avoid table work,’ Michael explains, particularly for the benefit of those actors he hasn’t worked with before. ‘We’ll do it from the point of view of being up on our feet. We’ll get up early tomorrow and attempt to go through the whole play very soon to get a general shape. We’ll go away quite early, by the end of this week, with a sketch – a sense of spatial awareness with the words. It gives you greater ownership earlier.’
Michael wants the cast to enter the theatre confident, explaining that there are more previews for Peter and Alice than any other production in MGC’s opening season. One of the actors asks about the way in which the characters speak, prompting a discussion about the need for projection, to which Michael responds: ‘Celebrate the technique of being truthful while projecting.’ He discusses the need to make the transition to the theatre, resisting the temptation to ‘bring down’ the performances of the actors in weeks three and four of rehearsals.
The company then take a break for lunch, reconvening an hour later for the readthrough, sat around a table. It is timed at one and a quarter hours. Afterwards Michael congratulates everyone, saying it was good to hear all the characters together and describing the reading as a ‘wonderful springboard’. Referring to the tone of the piece, he comments: ‘Where there is tragedy, to my ears it was good when we didn’t play it tragically - didn’t colour it. It’s the old point about not playing the end at the beginning.’
Michael ends by saying he and John don’t want to make many changes to the text: ‘Maybe moments to cover transformations now we know the design.’ Minor revisions are discussed, mainly concerning American usage of English and pronunciation of characters’ names. Michael also observes the need for someone to come into rehearsals to teach the waltz and already begins asking questions of the play – for example, how long has Peter been waiting at the beginning? He concludes the first day’s rehearsal by telling the cast: ‘Every one of you is in the right place.’
The first week’s rehearsal ends with an afternoon session with Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, played by Olly Alexander and Ruby Bentall respectively. There are fewer people here today than at the start of the week and consequently the rehearsal room feels more intimate.
The two actors sit on chairs close to Michael. Seated at a table next to him are Associate Director Timothy Koch and Deputy Stage Manager Clare Fisher. Michael begins by reflecting on the fictional Peter and Alice: ‘You are the title-characters of the play as well. You echo the relationship of the real-life Peter and Alice. In their grown-up selves joining up, these two join up.’
They work through all the scenes featuring Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, Michael asking: ‘Now what’s going on here?’ His questions range from how old the characters are, to clarifying details from the books by JM Barrie and Lewis Carroll – for example, ‘Does Alice in Wonderland ever suggest she likes “gallants”?’ in response to Peter Pan’s taunts that, “That’s the sort you like".'
After the actors read each scene, Michael pauses to reflect and offer notes. ‘Just a couple of things I’d like you to look at technically there – articulating.’ He encourages the actors to ‘invest’ in a particular line: ‘Don’t make it declamatory, rhetorical – keep it alive.’ Later he comments that John Logan may remove some of the exclamation marks within their dialogue, meanwhile he tells them not to play them. He suggests different emphases and encourages the actors to ‘play around with them'.
Michael works through the script methodically, commenting: ‘At this stage it’s all about taking time.’ The actors respond to the notes, offering different readings of lines, to which Michael comments: ‘You need to do a version of that.’ In terms of the text’s appeal to the senses, its visual or ‘filmic’ quality, he says: ‘Get each individual image in every line very clear – treat us to an image all the time.'
Focusing on specific moments, such as Peter’s interjection, “How clever I am!” in the scene where the real-life Peter and Alice discuss the First World War, Michael asks: ‘Where does that line come from?’ Again meaning and interpretation are discussed, Michael observing that Peter’s statement, “Then I went mad” triggers something – Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland ‘confer’ over it. ‘The arc of the play is Alice Liddell Hargreaves refusing to open the door on her childhood,’ he suggests. ‘Peter has left his door open and now encourages her to do the same.’
Michael reflects upon the challenge of the tone Olly has to achieve when he officially reports the deaths of the real-life Alice’s sons, who were killed in action. He also questions who Ruby is meant to be in this scene, wondering whether she’s a ‘shadow’ for the real-life Alice? In his absence John has allowed Michael to move lines to assist, for example, the ‘contrivance of the exit of Lewis Carroll'. In this way Michael endeavours to keep the storytelling - the interaction between the two worlds, past and present - as clear as possible.
Reaching the final scene, he describes some of Alice in Wonderland’s lines as ‘mature’, the young girl now depicting the adult Wendy from Peter Pan. ‘You’re almost being a narrator there,’ he observes. ‘You’ll need to adopt a more mature tone, especially for the line, “What do you think growing up will be like?”’'
Michael’s keen to ensure that the real-life Peter and Alice remain a strong presence during the closing moments of the play, while their fictitious counterparts discuss getting old. ‘There’s some part of me that wants Peter and Alice invested in it,’ he says. ‘We’ll have to play with the tone. If we’ve done everything right until this point it’ll work.’
Bringing the rehearsal to a close, Michael concludes: ‘That’s not answered everything for the rest of the five weeks but it’s a start.’ Looking ahead, he comments: ‘One thing we have to get out of the play is the menace.’ Michael says that John refers to Peter Pan as a ‘demon’.
Mid-week of the second week of rehearsals and there are more actors in the room, as they work on a scene that involves Peter and Alice, their fictitious counterparts and the two authors, Lewis Carroll and JM Barrie. They’re revisiting the scene having looked at it briefly last week, Michael asking, ‘Who’s where?’ with regard to the blocking. He turns to DSM Clare: ‘Did you have a journey for Barrie?’
Looking at the cast on stage, Michael says, ‘That’s a very nice stage picture,’ commenting to Derek Riddell (JM Barrie) in particular, ‘It allows us to see you watching them'. Generally actors instinctively know when to adjust their positions on stage in relation to one another, but occasionally Michael encourages them to play a moment ‘on the diagonal’ to avoid standing in a line.
‘Shall we point that up by getting an entrance for you?’ he might say to one of the actors, to help emphasise a particular moment in the scene – for example, Peter’s discussion of his ‘family curse'. In this instance it’s JM Barrie’s arrival on stage. The scene’s run again, Derek judging his entrance. ‘That’s good,’ Michael observes. ‘Perfectly timed.’
In discussion, Ben Wishaw focuses on Peter’s account of his mother’s illness - specifically, the image of her fainting, an arm outstretched towards him. He comments that this would be a very traumatic image for a child. Michael makes the link between Peter’s reference to his mother’s corset and Alice’s previous reference to her sister’s: ‘It’s four and a half pages ago that Alice talked about stays and corsets, so you have to hold onto that.’
This is a complex scene in which the issue of ‘molestation’ is first raised. Michael concentrates on Alice’s dialogue, commenting: ‘The structure of that line is curious – “You were interfered with?” Where does it come from? It suggests that question needs to be asked from something Peter says.’ Judi Dench responds by explaining she’s looked for its motivation. ‘I don’t know how particular to make it,’ she says. ‘Or maybe it’s particular by the nature of the line?’ Michael considers this: ‘You have to take it from the immediate sequence.’ The discussion involves everyone in the room and Nicholas Farrell, playing Lewis Carroll, suggests it might come from Peter’s use of the word ‘exploit’ several lines earlier.
‘All we’ve been able to deduce so far is that Peter was emotionally abused,’ says Michael. ‘The author has to address this at some point in the play. It's good for us in the audience to hear the question asked.’ He addresses Ben and Judi in turn: ‘The play demands that we question the trauma he’s experienced and she’s suppressed.’
Michael then suggests that ‘Barrie’s greatest crime was abusing the children’s innocence'. Nicholas adds to this: ‘The irony is that the two men (Carroll and Barrie) who didn’t want these children to grow up, by imposing that on them, forced them to. They themselves were both trying to keep the real world at arm’s length.’ Michael reflects on this: ‘They were both social cripples who came alive around children. It’s as if they became whole with them and were able to be free.’ Nicholas shares his biographical knowledge of Carroll, which offers a different perspective: ‘He was actually rather front-footed, politically active. John’s Lewis Carroll is very different, and that’s what we’re playing.’
Judi returns to the central issue of molestation and what actually happened between Barrie and Peter: ‘This question, ultimately, is what the audience wants to know.’ In conclusion, Michael observes: ‘There’s an invisible court case within the play. Once the physical abuse is taken away it becomes an even more complicated and fascinating story.’
Returning to the scene, in which Peter and Alice reckon with the ideas above, Judi says: ‘I don’t know how I get to the next question from there…’ Then quips, ‘Act it!’ Michael asks Ben and Judi to run the scene. ‘The two of you are feeding off each other at this point,’ he says, commenting to Judi: ‘You’ve opened the door for him.’ He asks them to practice it. ‘We’re trying to work this out together,’ says Judi, clarifying the objective of the exchange.
Michael focuses on Peter’s line: “At our story…” ‘You are absolutely arriving at a station together, you’ve arrived at your story. It helps unlock it.’ He reflects on this moment: ‘I think I just feel that, the sense of it. You just need to invest in it now.’ Ben is having difficulty with Peter’s line: “Partly… And partly that other book.” The differentiation between the two. ‘I think it needs to be a fight,’ says Michael. ‘Keep driving it through.’
Michael refers to ‘stage pictures’, commenting: ‘The axis of this scene is all on the diagonal.’ He’ll re-block a scene, occasionally asking an actor to move position: ‘Can I ask you a favour, Judi? Can you move slightly to the right on “Honestly!”. It just helps to re-balance the stage.’ He suddenly turns his attention to the fictitious Peter and Alice: ‘Are we missing the trick of having you two playing with one another in the centre of the space?’
Michael always watches the action on stage to make sure it’s balanced correctly, helping tell the story. ‘What I love choreographically…’ he’ll say of a specific moment, making suggestions to actors: ‘Can you try that section on the diagonal down to her?’ or ‘Would it help you if you started that speech on the spot?’
There’s some discussion with Nicholas about the scene set in the dark room, specifically how many elements within it should be mimed. Nicholas has watched several videos on You Tube showing how photographs used to be developed. ‘I think the answer is to do all of it and then we can pull back,’ suggests Michael. ‘Play with it, that’s exactly what this rehearsal is for.’ To help establish the scene, Nicholas asks: ‘Could I make a case for the “Dark Room” cloth coming in a few seconds earlier?’ Michael agrees: ‘It’s whatever makes you feel most comfortable.’ Judi wonders what pose she should strike as the young Alice being photographed by Carroll. A book of his photographs is consulted and several possibilities are explored.
In the third week of rehearsals the actors’ understudies are present, observing rehearsals until 4pm then attending separate understudy rehearsals until 6.30pm. Voice Coach Penny Dyer is also in today, working with individual actors during the afternoon. She has one-to-one conversations with them, giving brief notes. Over lunch some actors sit quietly by themselves looking at their scripts, or read one of the many research books in the room.
This afternoon Michael’s returning to the first scene of the play, featuring Peter and Alice. ‘So this is a consolidation, an accumulation of all the work we’ve done so far,’ he explains. Ben and Judi run sections until Michael says: ‘Good, let’s stop there. They’re just a couple of things I want to pick up on.’ He’ll focus on details, such as the structure of a speech – the through-line of the thought behind it. Michael’s role, partly, is to observe and analyse. ‘Is there any…’ he might start a sentence, continuing: ‘I don’t think there is, but if I don’t ask the question it’ll never get asked.’
Michael focuses on the opening moment of the scene, saying to Ben: ‘Until she starts talking it certainly was a “pleasure” to meet her.’ He observes of one of Judi’s monologues: ‘It’s a phenomenally difficult, contracted speech.’ To which she replies: ‘It’s picking out the bones of it.’ It’s noted that Peter is preventing Alice from entering the bookshop.
They run another section, following which Michael says, ‘A couple of things…’ He asks Judi: ‘Where do you get, “In your element, Mr Davies” from? Secondly, “Everything associated with the Centenary…” connecting that with, “Momentarily, yes...".' He wonders to what extent the centenary even registers in Alice’s life? Focusing on Peter’s line, “But we all grow old!... That’s the story of our lives: the one immutable; the one inescapable", Michael counsels Ben: ‘Make sure you don’t rush over “immutable” to get to “inescapable", they’re two separate things.’
He considers inserting a pause before Alice’s line, “In your element, Mr Davies", asking Judi: ‘Can you bear to leave that just a little longer?’ He suggests adding some noise from the guests in the shop, which would give Alice an opportunity to look at the books. ‘Would that help?’ asks Michael. He’s keen to fully explore the tension between the two characters: ‘We’re not really treating ourselves to the hell of being alone in a room together without much between you. In fact, there’s a lot between you but we don’t know that yet. Let’s not play that.’ He concentrates on immediate objectives, saying to Judi: ‘Your point of gravity is to get through that wretched door as soon as possible.’
Michael encourages Judi to be on her ‘front foot’ during Alice’s long speech, “With me, it has been a wholly happy connection…” rather than reflective. He suggests Peter finds her speech – her story – ‘inadequate’, adding his own, “Let me tell you the rest of the story…” Michael reflects on the tone of the dialogue inbetween: ‘The filling between the sandwich of these two speeches is very witty.’ From that moment on, he says, ‘The stakes have to go higher’.
Ben observes that the scene, until this point, can’t simply be about setting up the contrast between past and present. ‘We need to be invaded by the memories rather than preparing the way for them. It’s better for Peter if I stay on the book and then the memories come crashing in.’ Of his last line of this section – “Who but me? Peter and Alice” – Michael comments: ‘It needs a little help there.’ His ear listens for details, small emphases or inflections on words: “Following hard on the smile of remembrance is the pain in the eyes.”
Michael encourages the actors to challenge each other more in this opening exchange, commenting to Ben: ‘You shouldn’t be able to get away with, “As a publisher I’ve an obligation to tell the truth".' Unusually he tries an exercise in which he asks Ben and Judi to sit in chairs facing one another. He encourages Judi to, ‘Really let him have it'. Both actors feel the exercise helps them unlock things in the text. ‘If you can find that moment,’ says Michael, ‘you somehow open up the next.’ He reflects on the excitement for onlookers of seeing two strangers going at each other. Of the exercise above, Michael encourages Ben and Judi to, ‘Remember that in the learning of it'.