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15 March 2013 | On Stage | By: Zoe Craig

"With Ben and Judi, There Are No Egos": Ruby Bentall On Peter And Alice

"With Ben and Judi, There Are No Egos": Ruby Bentall On Peter And Alice

Londoner Ruby Bentall is best-known for starring in TV costume dramas (Lark Rise To Candelford; Lost in Austen; The Paradise), but this spring she’s starring in a new play in the West End.

When we meet the Camden-born actress during rehearsals for John Logan’s Peter And Alice, she told us she hadn’t been planning to take a break from TV: ‘No, I wanted to do some more telly stuff,’ she laughs, with likeable honesty. ‘But this part came along, and I just thought I had to try it. You can’t really be too picky. I love doing costume dramas. I’m not worried about getting type-cast at all. Costume dramas are all I watch really, so I don’t mind doing that kind of TV. In fact, I could quite happily do costume dramas forever.’

Her role as Alice in Wonderland in this new play doesn’t stray too far from the literary ideal. ‘She’s completely how people imagine Alice from the books: I get to wear the blue dress and the blonde wig. It’s an archetypal portrait: Alice is a typical Victorian girl, bossy and pert.’

American playwright John Logan has long been fascinated by the fact Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the model for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, met Peter Llewelyn Davies, inspiration for JM Barrie’s Peter Pan in a London bookshop in 1932. She was 80, he was 35. Ruby explains, ‘This play is John Logan’s interpretation of how that conversation goes. They meet and they talk about their lives, and how it affected them being both these famous characters, but not really them, and how it’s messed them up.’

Logan’s play then turns to fantasy, as the writers and book characters themselves arrive on stage out of the real-life Peter and Alice’s imaginations. The star casting of Judi Dench as Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Ben Whishaw as Peter Llewelyn Davies isn’t the first time the writer has worked with these two members of theatrical royalty: Logan wrote Skyfall and is responsible for the next two films in the Bond series.

But, promises Ruby, there’s nothing Hollywood about working on Peter And Alice. ‘Everyone gets on really well. It’s such a nice job, really. It’s so chilled out and calm, and everyone’s just gorgeous. We go for nice lunches. I was so excited about working with Judi and Ben, and they’re both so brilliant, there are no egos. You never feel like they’re saying “we’re the leads and you’re that lot over there.” The feeling is really ‘ensemble-y.’ It’s been brilliant watching them; you learn so much. It sounds like a cliche, but you do sort of watch them and go, “ahh, this is how it’s done.”’

The 24-year-old has worked in London theatre before, but the Noel Coward Theatre will be one of the largest spaces she’s ever performed in. ‘It’s a bit scary because there are four tiers - that makes it quite a hard space. I’ve mainly worked in quite little theatres. I prefer smaller spaces because you can worry more about the acting than getting the words and emotions over to everyone at the back. It’s a real skill. Communicating with the whole room, and not making it look like that’s what you’re doing: that’s the trick.’

And what is her dream London stage? ‘I’d like to do the Donmar. And the Old and the Young Vic. And the Almeida. I’ve got a long list! My favourite place to work in is the National. It’s where my parents met, so it has always felt like a special place for my family.’

Theatre is clearly in Ruby’s blood: her mother is Janine Duvitski (star of, among other things, the original Abigail’s Party and TV series One Foot In The Grave), while her dad is actor Paul Bentall. But, she says she feels no need to compete with their achievements: ‘They’re very supportive. They’re more obsessed with my career now than they are with their own, I think!’

In fact, Ruby confides that she’s just moved out of the family home and into her own place in Leytonstone. ‘It’s very different to Richmond, where I grew up, but I like that. It’s great having my own place, even if it is just a little house. The area’s really nice. I’m a big fan of the Old Red Lion pub, which is fast becoming my local.’

Before we leave Ruby to cycle back to her new pad, we ask her if she can share a secret from the show. ‘Err, there’s some flying?’ she suggests, giggling tentatively. Does she get to fly? ‘No,’ she laughs, ‘just Peter Pan.’

But with this, her longest West End run to date, in the largest London theatre she’s ever performed in, plus a new house and some new high profile colleagues, perhaps Ruby’s flying in her own way already.

Peter And Alice runs at the Noel Coward Theatre, 85 St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4AU until 1 June. Visit michaelgrandagecompany.com/whats-on to find out more.

Zoe Craig

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