Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Belt Up takes on the fantasy world of Lewis Carroll and intersperses nonsensical playfulness with biographical content. As always Belt Up create a rich fantasy world where company and audience collude in breaking down theatrical barriers.
Trooping into the space that Belt Up has made their own over the last few years at C venue, we are plunged into another world and one which doesn’t resemble any theatre you’ve seen before. Somewhere between shabby chic squat and desert tent, the room has been transformed into an intimate theatre in the round. In true Belt Up fashion the actors are among us from the beginning ushering us into our seats.
Don’t expect the conventional – this is Belt Up theatre – fantastical, assured and captivating. Taking Lewis Carroll’s later life and a lesser known later novel as their starting point, they weave a tale that meanders in and out of fact and fiction blurring the lines between the two.
The play deals with Lewis Carroll as he faces illness and decline. It explores the connection between his narcolepsy and fantasy worlds, between reality and inner world. Was it Carroll’s rare form of epilepsy that made him see the world in such a different way and allowed him such easy access to his dreams? This is a world beyond the looking glass, Carroll’s very personal Outland, a place as real to him as the material world.
The idea of Outland fits Belt Up’s style and thematic interests perfectly. Belt Up enjoy creating work that allow them to transgress boundaries and explore the borders between worlds, and through that what makes us who we truly are given the power of imagination, creativity and other types of transformation.
Dominic Allen’s script is a delight and incorporates Carroll’s glorious words with due respect but not undue reverence. There are wonderful recitations of various Carroll poems, in particular a rendition of Jabberwocky with all, including audience members, aboard an improvised boat. While the narrative was never meant to be linear and jumps in and out of any chronological sense with ease, the opening sequences would benefit from a little clarity and add to our understanding of the show. It’s a hugely whimsical show which provides a showcase for Carroll’s nonsense. However, the balance between this and the exploration of Carroll’s dawning realisation of his fast approaching death jars slightly and the two contrasting themes aren’t integrated to full dramatic effect.
Dan Wood’s performance as Carroll, an angular, awkward figure, who is uncomfortable in his own skin, is wonderfully poignant. Jethro Compton and Lucy Farrett are skilled accomplices slipping between of their adult, childhood and fantasy selves with consummate ease. The three characters interact wonderfully as Carroll and his two adult friends; Carroll and the two children he created a fantasy world with; and the characters of that fantasy world. Together they create an all consuming world which they let the audience into, both literally and through the audience’s imagination. As always, Belt Up’s ability to engage and bring the audience in is a joy to behold.
This doesn’t reach the peak of Belt Up shows I’ve been blown away by, but that’s measuring them against their own very high standard. By any other standard, this is a highly entertaining piece of immersive theatre – and one which I think Mr Carroll himself would have appreciated.