Theatre: Curiouser and curiouser

Published Date: 09 August 2008
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland makes very little sense












ALICE'S Adventures in Wonderland may be a children's book, but that doesn't mean it's child's play adapting it for the stage. In fact, taking a piece of writing as rambling, fragmented, wilfully nonsensical and downright bonkersas Lewis Carroll's classic and compressing it into a one-hour show is the theatrical equivalent of trying to coax a very large camel through the eye of a very small needle. Nevertheless, several companies have given it a go, with mixed results.

The key to putting a fresh spin on any well-worn text is to start off with a clear idea of how you want it to speak to a contemporary audience and then make everything else, from cuts to costumes, serve that purpose; and that's almost exactly what Z Theatre Company has done with Said Alice, its slick, present-day take on the tale.

By re-imagining the titular heroine as a 17-year-old on a big night out, who first drinks herself into a stupor and then starts hoovering up all the drugs she can get her hands on, the company gives itself a good, strong central concept, and one it realises with impressive clarity and wit. In a narcotic-induced haze, Alice bumps into three old tramps chowing down on space cakes – a sort of Mad Hatter's Tea Party for the 21st century – and then falls foul of a sinister drug dealer who calls herself the Queen of Hearts. There are knowing references to the fact that Alice is "chasing the white rabbit" and at one point the Queen gleefully observes "She's off her head! She's off her head!" The costumes are nicely ambiguous – caught somewhere between the gritty world of the street and the fevered world of Alice's imagination – and a series of atmospheric video sequences flows smoothly through the piece, tying everything together. The acting is a little patchy, but on the whole this is clever, inventive stuff.

In Finding Alice, the five actors of A Single Leaf theatre company take a much more child-friendly approach to the story (their show is suitable for ages seven and up), but like Z Theatre they benefit from creating a very definite look and feel for their production. The main protagonist here isn't Alice at all, but Miriam, a little girl in modern pyjamas who finds herself unexpectedly transported to a 1930s Wonderland while reading about Alice's adventures. Once there, she meets a sport-obsessed Mad Hatter, a guitar-strumming Dormouse and a super-cool jazz saxophonist who goes by the name of Mr W Rabbit. When the book- hating Queen of Hearts confiscates her copy of Alice in Wonderland, Miriam must somehow swipe it back in order to work out how to get home. A simple story, then, but told with real skill by an extremely child-friendly cast – a little girl sitting just along from me looked utterly transfixed from beginning to end.

If only the makers of Alice in Wonderland at the Bedlam Theatre had taken a leaf out of Second Leaf's book and done a little more narrative streamlining. With a bewildering cast of no fewer than 40 different hand, shadow and Bunraku puppets, this troupe from Texas Women's University seems to want to cram almost every single scene from the original story into its one-hour production. That's not to say that some of the puppets in this "folk-rock puppet re-imagining" aren't spectacular – they are – but there are so many of them it's all a bit overwhelming, particularly at 10:15am.

The show has one great big redeeming feature, however, in the shape of the hugely talented and elegantly top- hatted multi-instrumentalist John Dyer. His subtle, stripped-down compositions are an absolute joy to listen to, and they seem especially well-suited to the more restrained, low-fi shadow puppetry sequences. In fact, it's easy to imagine a more laid-back version of this show, featuring Dyer, his music and the odd shadow puppet routine becoming a late-night Fringe sensation.

It wouldn't matter what time of day or night Exeter University Theatre Company put on its production of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, it still wouldn't make much sense. Billed as a modernised version of the original, it has one or two faintly garagey musical interludes and the Dormouse wears one of those long sleeping bag coats that were the height of street chic about five years ago. Apart from these rather superficial touches, however, this is a disappointingly straightforward interpretation of the Alice story which meanders along aimlessly for a while and then peters out in a chaotic trial scene that seems to take forever to end. Perhaps the Exeter Uni players set out to create an atmosphere of randomness and confusion, but if they'd done their homework they would know that Carroll was a keen logician and that, more often than not, there was method in his madness.

Said Alice runs until 15 August, today 4:30pm; Finding Alice runs until 25 August, today 11am; Alice in Wonderland runs until today, 10:15am; Alice's Adventures in Wonderland runs until 24 August, today 5:50pm

The full article contains 901 words and appears in The Scotsman newspaper.
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  • Last Updated: 08 August 2008 8:49 PM
  • Source: The Scotsman
  • Location: Edinburgh