Physical theatre can always lend itself to a degree of interpretation, and inevitably the risk of confusion. I often think of it as being one of the trickiest forms of performance for this very reason – where do you draw the line between the aesthetic and the literal representation? Arguably this divide, the directorial edit that separates the abstract from exact reflection is what determines the success of such a form, but again this falls victim to a raw subjectivity only possible when the visual art is intended to be non-representational.
Expect to be challenged: in true Wonderland style the answers will be there; just be prepared to have to work for them.
ALICE – Underground Lives My Buried Mind, though breathtakingly spectacular in its brightest moments, falls victim to a sense of convolution and ambiguity in its message. Whilst I am an advocate of allowing an audience to interpret something as it sees fit, a performance needs structure; it needs the groundwork to which someone can add their own fleshed and thought-out explanation.
The set, comprising of nine separate AstroTurf panels – each illuminated at varying times by its own desk lamp – does nothing to aid the storytelling, instead serving only to make the space otherworldly and curious in its appearance. Additionally, any dialogue is drowned out entirely by a combination of unamplified voices, weak projection and unintelligible pronunciation.
Individually and as an ensemble, the cast excel in their physicality. In particular, I thought the representation of (what I assume to be) the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party went beyond expectation, and pushed the boundary of what theatre can be, although I have to wonder if it stood out partly because of the lesser success of certain other scenes.
After the performance I checked the Fringe programme to see if my lack of comprehension was an isolated occurrence – the official description is equally vague. “A girl confronts herself with her own ghosts”; hardly a beginning, middle and end kind of plot. In hindsight though, I wonder if perhaps that is the very point: the audience is as lost as Alice seems to be, and maybe the so-called ghosts form part of the confusion and suffering she is so clearly experiencing. Possibly the piece is as much of an experience for the audience as it is for the protagonist; meeting all manner of dark and twisted fantasies in the process together.
Disjointed both in intention and in execution, Alice will have you questioning what you expect of a performance. Its success in this pontification will, inevitably, come down to your analysis of its figurations – but expect to be challenged: in true Wonderland style the answers will be there; just be prepared to have to work for them.