You never know which of the cast is going to turn up for a post performance Q&A so it was such a treat to get Dame Judi Dench, Ben Whishaw and Peter & Alice director Michael Grandage at the What's on Stage event. MG kicked off proceedings while the cast were getting out of costume:
How did Peter and Alice come about?
Met John Logan (who wrote Peter and Alice) while working at the Donmar. JL had wanted to write something for that space and Red arrived perfectly formed. MG said he and the writer had a common bond, had a good collaborative working relationship and good friendship. Logan had suggested Peter and Alice while Grandage was winding down as artistic director at the Donmar. He went to Dame Judi with whom he had worked before and she was enchanted by it. Then went to Ben and he liked it "So I got my first choices".
Will he throw his hat into the arena for Nicholas Hytner's job at the National Theatre?
"Flattered to think my name has been mentioned in relation to National Theatre" but doesn't want to run a building again as he's done it before and said there are plenty of talented people out there.
Cast arrive, Dame Judi is drinking champagne and Ben Whishaw red wine both seem relaxed laughing and joking throughout.
Why did you take the part?
BW said he was very moved by the story. He'd had no idea about the real story behind the famous children's story and was shocked by the tragedy of it. He had an emotional reaction to it.
DJ "Michael Grandage read it to me and read it far too well and I said yes straight away." In 1960 she had been living in Eton Terrace and Sloane Square was her local tube so she remembered the death of Peter Llewelyn Davies [he jumped in front of a train at the station].
BW "You are given an enormous amount in the play". He also read Andrew Birkin's JM Barrie and The Lost Boys but didn't want to crowd his head with too much information. DJ Because of her deteriorating sight the large print script was just too big, looked like she was doing a play three times longer, so she learnt the play beforehand. She said that Michael Grandage makes it very clear in rehearsals and they didn't spend time sitting around talking about the play, they got up and moved around.
MG Said that the entire group pretty much turned up to rehearsals knowing their lines so he could start rehearsals straight away. "I love it when actors turn up knowing the play."
In the play you go from being quite upbeat and having fun to drama and tragedy - how do you keep that going night after night?
DJ "Well Ben has done Hamlet!" She went on to say it's a process of working out why you say what you say and why others say what they say, that you have to do your homework, know the play and know the course it takes. And then you have to make sure that you don't get there too soon.
She added that it is also down to how the audience react on any given night. MG added that while the play gets reviewed on one night the audience is being reviewed by the cast every night.
At the beginning of the evening's performance someone in the stalls had been violently coughing so how do the actors deal with that?
BW said that you do notice things and you meet the other actors eyes. He said one evening there was a woman flapping her programme vigorously and he'd started thinking 'what on earth is that woman doing' but then you have to bring yourself back into the character.
He went on to say that he thought it was his cigarette that his character smokes in the opening sequence that sets people off. 'As soon as people see someone smoking it automatically starts them coughing'. He suggested to MG that they get rid of the cigarette.
DJ was asked about the Helen Mirren drummers incident and responded "terrific". DJ herself has told someone off in one of the boxes for taking photos during Peter and Alice.