Your Alice the Play

Fri 3rd – Sat 25th August 2018

reviews

Thomas Goodyer

at 18:32 on 14th Aug 2018

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‘Your Alice’ is built upon the idea that stories, fantasy and what Luke Neville’s Charles (pen name: Lewis Carroll) calls a ‘belief in the impossible’ are what separates the child from the adult. In this arc, children invest meaning in simplistic and archetypal narratives, until they grow and are forced into coming to terms with the complexities of adult life.

Though this theme may seem somewhat mawkish, the show’s boisterous re-appropriation of the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ tale to question how Alice’s coming of age is linked with ideas of ownership and identity, imbues it with an exciting sense of energy and flux. Our familiarity with the characters and themes is played off with the constantly shifting proxemics; the rhythmic flurrying of bodies. In this, the whole sinister fantasy becomes 'curiously' unstable, as characters question their author, upset the fourth wall and intimate at the possible ‘licentious desire’ of Lewis Carroll for Alice. In the midst of this, “our” heroine, played superbly by Eliza Shea, hangs somewhere between the proprieties of adulthood imposed upon her by the Red Queen (her mother), and the infantilising way Carroll treats her in the stories she in turn loves and resents.

To find poignancy and power in such a ubiquitous childhood story is a remarkable feat and the ensemble cast handle its weight of tradition with sensitivity. The audience aren’t drawn to condemn Carroll’s complex and potentially pedophilic love for an eleven year-old girl. Nor are they to take him sympathetically for, in Alice’s words, stealing ownership of her childhood by binding it in leather and publishing it, because of this love. Though it smartly avoids pretension, this willingness to let the ambiguities and meta-fictional puzzles rife in the characters’ relationship remain unsolved, is what makes the play successful.

The only moments 'Your Alice' stutters are when it fails to do justice to these ambiguities: though the interjections from clarinet and piano were welcome and suitably menacing, some of the lengthier songs, such as the White Rabbit’s, oversold the sentimentality in a way which seemed out of keeping with the witty and intelligent handling of the same themes elsewhere.

The theatrical scene is replete with re-hashes, but it is rare to find a play which calls into question the validity and consequences of the narrative it displays with such adroitness. ‘Your Alice’ does so, and remains a highly engaging watch.

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Alannah Taylor

at 11:34 on 17th Aug 2018

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‘Your Alice’ exposes the dark but complex context of a well beloved classic, twisting the well-known Wonderland into something even stranger, more menacing and more beautiful. An original script by Billie Aken-Tyers probes into the troubled mind of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (pen name Lewis Carroll) in relation to his Miss Alice Liddell, and the world he has created for her.

The ensemble of familiar faces from Wonderland are absolutely enchanting. They are garishly creepy, glistening with dark mirth, and impeccably coordinated. They bounce beautifully off of one another, and there is a lot of amazing physical theatre. In fact, every small movement of the collective ensemble is cleverly directed and expertly expressed.

Dodgson is introduced as a quiet, humble and gentle character, innocent and unassuming. Alice (Eliza Shea) is almost his perfect counterpart: small, excitable, demanding and willful – slightly unkempt, but immediately endearing. They care about and trust one another, they have fun together and each delights in the other’s good qualities. However, Wonderland has its own ideas about their unlikely friendship, which journeys repeatedly between sweet and harmless to ominous, perverse and damaging.

While Dodgson stands, reserved and kindly, in the centre of the stage, calmly insisting that Alice go home to her family for her tea, the Wonderland ensemble explode out of him at all angles, enticing her to stay. Each imaginary form, twinkling with hellish delights, expresses a different element of Dodgson’s unconscious: Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee his juvenile side, the Cheshire Cat an acknowledgment of Dodgson’s sense of being an outsider, the Hatter and the Hare the mentally unstable elements of his psyche. And while the rabbit indicates Dodgson’s nurturing nature toward Alice, the caterpillar is composed of the basest and most repressed view of the child in his care.

The result of these entangled voices is to create constant conflict. The ethics at play are always murky: the audience’s perception of Dodgson is never allowed to settle simply at twisted paedophile or kindly, upstanding caretaker. Rather, we are forced to ricochet repeatedly between. Dodgson’s self-perception appears to undergo a similar seesaw process. The message is that Dodgson is simultaneously all and both: the chilling, exploitative predator, the warm, compassionate guardian and the humble creative genius.

It is a perfectly balanced performance. However, I must criticise the show’s conscience slightly, as I feel that the Dodgson in the story gets off much too lightly. While the story is beautifully put together and teeters on the edge of this conflict of ethics, we must remember that for a modern audience there is no conflict of ethics: this pair cannot be considered star crossed lovers, but rather just a case of child abuse. But ultimately, this is a truly mesmerising piece of drama, in which not a moment of stage time is wasted. Every instant and every line glitters.

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