Tag Archives: Lewis Carroll

Review: Alice Through The Looking Glass (St. Paul’s Church Covent Garden, London)

Alice 1Rating: *****

In A Nutshell:

Electric, inventive, and mad-cap, this is a family show that has as much narrative style and substance as it does outrageous fun.

Overview

Continuing on from the success of their production of Alice in Wonderland last year, Iris Theatre returns to Lewis Carroll by adapting his topsy-turvy sequel. Alice catches a glimpse of her older and frailer self through a looking glass. In order to try and make elderly Alice remember who she is, she bangs a little too hard on the mirror and both of their worlds are sucked into each other. In order to save her older self for the notorious Jabberwocky, she must traverse towards rank eight of this giant chess-board world to defeat it.

Writing

Writer and Artistic Director, Daniel Winder, adapts Carroll’s book with a great deal of intelligence. Most interestingly, he uses a framing device of Alice on the quest to save her older self: something that is not part of the original novel. What this illustrates is that Winder knows Carroll more than most. In execution, it gives the narrative a drive and purpose other than becoming non-sequential nonsense that an adaptation could have easily been. But it also means that, despite being a family friendly show, it gives it real substance that makes it work as equally as fantastic as an adult piece of theatre.

This framing device, despite adding to the text, is actually quite organic and relevant. Taking into account darker themes from episodes such as the White Knight’s song and the encounter with the Wasp in a Wig, Winder embraces the fact that there are definite allusions to Carroll lamenting a lost and happy youth: subsequently, a widely accepted interpretation of Carroll’s earlier related work, The Hunting of the Snark. The result is an adaptation that is as engaging as it is electric. The frolics, fun, and nonsense are superb, but empathetically dwelling on the tender melancholy that is inherent in the text gives it that extra edge, making it more than a juvenile affair.

The only negative is that it does drag a little in the second act, especially in the more verbose scenes such as that with Humpty Dumpty. This is mainly because of the original book itself is lengthy, but also because Winder et al had set a pace in Act I that was always going to be difficult to keep up with. But given everything else that’s amazing about this production, it really is a trivial criticism.

Music and Songs

Although not a musical per se, there are plenty of songs throughout. Candida Caldicot creates a score that captures the anarchy and wonder of Carroll’s world. With this, the songs themselves are fun, simple, and catchy, making them especially suitable for children but immensely enjoyable for adults. Caldicot can also pen a ditty that has as much heart and emotion, where needed, to bolster Winder’s emotive vision. She also isn’t afraid to experiment, using vocal and musical effects at points to create atmosphere and tension, such as in the Jabberwocky’s lair, to great effect.

ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASSDirection & Production

There is so much I can laud here, I’m not sure where to start! Ultimately, Tara Finney’s large team of set, lighting and sound designers, builders, and movement directors manage to transport you to Wonderland effortlessly. Using only a fairly minimum bits of set and props – such as fairy lights, and various landscaping features – the several performance areas are decked out to create enough whimsy to prompt audience members on their own journey of imagination. But what’s tremendous is tenacity and inventiveness of Finney’s team, finding surprising things to take advantage of that are already existing within St. Paul’s church and its grounds, adding extra and unexpected oomph . One example is using a low chord on the church’s own organ when entering the lair of the Jabberwocky. This could have easily been done using pre-recorded sound on their excellent AV equipment. But by doing this instead, the audience also get to feel the physical rumble of this domineering instrument, making it particularly exciting and scary.

But there’s also a very high-end professionalism here too. There are some moments that are as aesthetically arresting as those you’d find on a West End stage. For example, older Alice’s bed chamber is breathtaking when you enter, with it’s larger than life tilted bed engulfed in the vast Edwardian church space. There’s also a wonderful moment the Wasp in a Wig teeters off, holding high the golden comb given to her by Alice, making it glint in the spotlight and casting an imposing shadow as she exits. These touches edmonstrate that this isn’t just a lets-have-a-laugh-and-cobble-together-an-outdoor-promenade-production, but that Iris Theatre to be as professional outfit as anything else in the West End, if not better than some of the productions currently on in the theatres.

Director Jamie Jackson also ensures a solid balance in this being a promenade production, making sure the audience are never spending too long or too quick a time in any place. But he also understands how effective interaction can be and is never scared to directly involve the audience. There are plenty of moments when the audience are involved, either as individuals dressing up Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, or merely being squirted by water pistols from afar. He’s also not afraid of being inventive within this family friendly context, accommodating some of Isla Jackson-Ritchie’s bold pieces of physical theatre to great affect. Thus, he’s as integral a contribution to the show as Winder, Caldicot, and Finney, all seeming working as one to pull of this tremendous show.

Cast

I absolutely can’t bring myself to single out particular cast members here: they’re all as accomplished and as brilliant as each other. This is a cast that not only know how to act, but know how to have outrageous fun. They all throw themselves into their roles with brilliant aplomb, creating exuberant and engrossingly charismatic characters. They portray Carroll’s over-the-top personalities by wallowing in his nonsense as if it were gospel. But this is far from pantomime, and behind these outlandish characterisations there’s are passionate, creative, and mindful interpretations of the characters. Contrariwise, during Winder’s more touching moments, the actors treat their characters with a tact and subtlety as if a soft tragedy. Each player is the life and soul of whatever party they are at, and it’s a joy to see a cast as jubilant and having as much fun as the audience.

Verdict

Wild, riotous, and magical. This is one of the best pieces of summer theatre you could ask for. Even though it’s a family friendly production, there’s nothing here that will make adults feel left out or patronised as there’s a real sense of substance and intelligence among the madness and frivolity. It’s a production that makes you want the summer to never end, just so Iris Theatre can keep producing gems like this. An absolute masterpiece.

Alice Through The Looking Glass plays at St. Paul’s Church Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9ED, until 30 August 2014. Tickets are £17.99 (concessions available). To book, visit www.iristheatre.com.

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Theatre Review: Peter and Alice (Noel Coward Theatre, London)

Child's play. The cast among Christopher Oram's larger-than-life toy theatre. Photograph: Johan Persson.

Child’s play. The cast among Christopher Oram’s larger-than-life toy theatre. Photograph: Johan Persson.

Rating: ****

This new play by John Logan marks the second show in Michael Grandage’s much anticipated season. Boasting a stellar cast of Dame Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw it’s no wonder that the run has sold out. But after the success of Privates on Parade can Grandage and his illustrious company keep up the momentum?

The play is based on a meeting between Alice Liddell Hargreaves and Peter Llewellyn Davies in 1932. Alice is at a bookstore for the opening of a Lewis Carroll exhibition as she is the Alice that he had based the famous adventures on. She is accosted by Peter, a publisher who wants to convince her to have him publish her biography.  Despite her initial refusal, she soon discovers that Peter is who J M Barrie based Peter Pan on. On the revelation of their common ground, they reminisce and discuss their lives, their thoughts, their faults, and what it means to grow up.

With such great talent involved in the season it’s a shame that Grandage couldn’t find a playwright to match it. Logan’s play is tedious at best. The concept is interesting and has the potential to really explore its themes of being young, growing old, and examining the impacts that their respective author’s creations had on their lives. However, what we’re presented with is miserable wallowing in an attempt at something pseudo-philosophical.

If Logan’s goal was to make the audience as dreary and as depressed as his characters, then he’s succeeded. Despite the potential to hit a deep connection, and admittedly at points it does raise some thought-provoking treatsies, it never really comes to a specific point and seems just leave you feeling extremely glum rather than reflective and thoughtful.

To add insult to injury it’s also badly written. Dialogue and monologues are forced and heavy in their language, the book Peter and Alice are insufferable, and Logan’s attempts at humour are woefully awkward and contrived. Part fantastical, part biographical, and part attempt at sage, it’s a muddled and messy text. Needlessly maudlin and tiresomely existential this is a play that doesn’t deserve a West End platform.

Yet Grandage et al manages to turn Logan’s play into dazzling but solemn whimsy. Christopher Oram’s set is wildly colourful and bristles with wonder. Behind the drab bookstore back room of the opening scene lies a larger-than-life Victorian toy theatre, populated by vivid painted flats and sketches of characters from Carroll’s and Barrie’s original illustrations. The juvenile wonderment it evokes is inescapable.

Dench and Whishaw also give tremendous performances. Dench is almost unrecognisable as the down-trodden, terse, yet somehow spritely and optimistic octogenarian who refuses to grow up. She manages to bring a lightness to her character and never over indulges in the pathos. She is tragic yet charming. Whishaw as the troubled middle-aged Peter who is unable to stay young is lucid but vulnerable. Often hoisted by his own petard in his attempts to expose the faults in Alice’s machinations, the moments his countenance crumbles are devastating and compelling. You can’t take your attention away from either of them, even with the distractions of the other characters on stage, who, whilst solid, pale in comparison.

But it’s Grandage’s direction that makes this production and cements his status as a legendary director. He manages to bring fluidity to the play’s untidiness with a control of meter and pace across the 90 minutes ensuring you’re engage and interested throughout. His use of interaction, movement, and distance between characters enhances the themes that are trying to be put across and holds your interest: the sinister closeness of the authors to the characters, the fraught distance between Peter and Alice in their polemic battle of ideas and histories, and the energy and the amount of space the book characters take up, squashing and exhausting their real life counterparts to the fringes.

All in all, you couldn’t have asked for a better production and leading actors. Both cast and creatives hold your attention and amazement to the point that the fact that the play is unworthy of their talent becomes excusable. Their product of their time and effort makes this a must see despite the advice that you should try to ignore the text, and possibly slip a few Prozac into your fruit pastilles.

Peter and Alice plays at the Noel Coward Theatre, London, WC2N 4AU until 1 June 2013. SOLD OUT. Contact the theatre for details on returns on 0844 482 5140.