With long words, complex riddles and general nonsense, the stories of Alice’s various adventures might not seem best suited to children. Certainly this retelling isn’t. For the majority of this play, it seems that these University of Westminster students (on their first Fringe visit) are presenting a selection of characters from Alice in Wonderland in the form that many will remember from Lewis Carroll’s famous book. There is, however, an eerie darkness that threatens to undermine this children’s story, and throughout the script there are hints that ‘Wonderland’ is not quite what it seems.
There is a pervasive feeling of being trapped somewhere undesirable, with constant allusions to madness.
Unfortunately, the darkness is more distracting than spooky and while many of the zany characters might come across as menacing, they veer too close to puerile to make this tension work. We begin with Caterpillar (Harry Dodd) who seems more camp than sinister, puffing on his e-pipe in the torchlight. In a brief bit of shadow-puppetry we witness the March Hare being manipulated by the Mad Hatter, who emerges and scatters cards and other props around the set. More in panic than manic, Rhys Stephenson performs his lines in a gabble worthy of Rik Mayall, but a little too fast, losing some essential elocution.
Darcie Thompson-Fields’ Alice is red-haired and undeniably adult, if baffled. She certainly isn’t like the classic John Tenniel depiction of a little blond girl. Here again is a signal that all is not well. There is a pervasive feeling of being trapped somewhere undesirable, with constant allusions to madness. Sisters Toni and Rochelle Roberts play off each other as Tweedledum/Tweedledee with a quick and innocent rapport, while Vie Compton’s Queen of Hearts comes across as a brash Miranda Richardson, without the powerful diction.
When the White Rabbit finally makes an almost pantomime appearance, the play’s facade dissolves into a modern setting that has been hinted at throughout. We see what this piece is really about: the horrors and confusion of mental illness. But it has been a long time coming and is more surreal than shocking.The portrayal of a chaotic mind is in fact a chaotic, but not unsatisfying piece of theatre.