Edinburgh Fringe 2014
In this enchanting piece of site-theatre we follow Alice and an array of familiar characters across four floors of an old Victorian house. We are captivated, lost in a child’s imagination, reality and fiction merge as we are drawn deep into her fantasy world. The cast converse with us, we play games, tell stories, we are divided and led in different directions. Everyone sees different sides of a familiar tale – of an unfamiliar crime. Down the rabbit hole, Mr Rabbit is telling stories again, but perhaps he shouldn’t be…
The plot unfolds around us. We are guided round the house, split up and beckoned in different directions. Well written dialogue is interspersed with improvised interaction between cast and audience members, we are taunted, flirted with, asked silly questions. It is unsettling but brilliantly fun.
Transitions between spaces are smooth and effective, adding to the overall sense of the performance rather than taking away. The space is used thoughtfully. Whilst we move from room to room, doubling back on ourselves several times, the spaces are quickly changed over. Lights are altered, tables and chairs switched around. The effect is so disorientating I rarely get the sense that I have been in the same place twice. If I do, time has elapsed, the mood has changed and the world is different.
As the plot takes a dark turn, sound is used to unsettle the audience. Reminiscent of groups such as Aphex Twin and drawing on elements of dub step – a dark, twisted, electronic soundtrack emerges that further embellishes the overall effect.
There are a few outstanding performances from the likes of Adam Trussel (the ‘Dean of Christ Church’) and Katherine Turner (the ‘March Hare’). However, I name them reluctantly, their performances are facilitated by the others and what is most impressive is the cast working together as a whole. They are all generous, support each other where necessary and never detract attention. A virtue that is perhaps due to the fact the cast alternate between ensemble parts and lead roles each night.
Occasionally I felt that some of the costumes let the cast down. Scott Mcgarrick crafted a great performance as Mr Rabbit but was undercut by an unconvincing set of bunny ears that couldn’t compete with Trussel’s ‘Mr Caterpillar’ attire. When up close and personal these details really do count. It was also a shame that the immersive nature of the piece could not be sustained throughout all the rooms, one of which we were put in seats and observed the performance unfold as if we were back in a ‘normal theatre’.
Without wanting to spoil the plot, one must also briefly mention the theme of the piece. Given the mystery over the true nature of Lewis Carroll’s sexuality and his attitude towards children, the piece was perhaps a little unfair in its depiction of the Author. Whilst the theme is dealt with sensitively and not overly shocking in a cheap and tacky way, I feel it should have held back a little and emphasized the ambiguity of his legacy. What’s more, being site specific, the work itself bears little or no relation to the space in which it was conducted. Arguably, one of the strengths of site specific work is its capacity to engage directly with the history of the space in which it is performed.
Regardless, this really is a wonderful piece of theatre. Usually reluctant to engage with interactive performances of this type I found myself running down corridors after performers, eagerly sitting cross legged on the floor straining my head for a better view. Talking to audience members after the show, everyone had a positive reaction. We were excited and keen to share our different experiences. At one point during the piece, I realised a fire exit sign hanging above a door. It is a testament to the quality of this performance that it was not the performers but the sign that felt out of place – reminiscent of a distant reality, strange and unfamiliar in this beautifully crafted dream-like state.