Belt Up Theatre's Outland

Something consistently excellent about Belt Up’s productions is their dedication to preserving the illusion. For a company which has made an art of audience interaction (and frequently participation) this may seem like a contradiction in terms. Yet from the moment you are ushered into the softly lit, whimsically decorated rooms and settled on to chairs, sofas, or the floor, by a member of the cast – not once do you witness any member of Belt Up out of character. There is no awkward getting into position at the beginning, no clumsy curtain call to break the spell that what you are seeing is not real. This playing with fantasy and reality is a recurring theme of Outland, based on the life and stories of Reverend Charles Dodgson, more commonly known by his nom-de-plume Lewis Carroll.

The production dances between Carroll’s twilight years at Oxford, spent reminiscing with alumni Muriel and Arthur whom he had known as children, and his forays into Outland - a world of his imagination in which battles are fought, monarchs are crowned, and grand adventures are had. There are many allusions to C.S. Lewis, also an Oxford academic, and his mirroring fantasy world of Narnia, which can be reached through a wardrobe. The fact that Lewis wrote nearly half a century after Carroll seems to matter little; when half of the play is set in an epilepsy-induced imaginary land, concepts of time and space diminish in importance.

There is an enchanting moment when, looking for playmates with whom to hunt the Snark (a terrifying creature, though not quite as bad as the frumious Bandersnatch), Serena Manteghi (playing Muriel and Sylvie) points to the audience and suggests in accurately childlike tones ‘What about them?’ To which Dominic Allen, playing Carroll, replies in wonderment; ‘You can see them too?’ It is an exquisitely charming idea and really explores the topsy-turvy nature of the imagination. To Lewis Carroll, the world of Outland is beginning to appear more lucid than real life. ‘How boring the real world must seem to him’, wonders Muriel, watching Carroll succumb gratefully to his visions of Outland.

I was expecting a little more darkness from Outland. There were archery competitions, jam tarts and un-birthday picnics aplenty but I was expecting a lot more of the sinister rumours about Lewis Carroll to be mentioned. The exact nature of his close friendship with Alice Liddell (the namesake of his most famous work) often provokes controversy. Outland sidesteps this question, portraying Carroll as a Peter Pan-like figure, a man who has little interest in the adult world and who enjoys the company of children for their purity of imagination. Belt Up’s trio of shows this year includes The Boy James about J.M. Barrie, so evidently themes of age and imagination transcend between the plays.

My inner ghoul was sated however by a full rendition of Jabberwocky, recited as the space was plunged into darkness and wreaths of smoke. This was hauntingly beautiful, and a better indication of Carroll’s surreal psyche and state of mind than a full doctor’s report.‘God loves animals, sinners and dreamers’, Carroll says softly; at once defending his retreat into dreams, and coming to terms with his own mortality. Fantastical, fanciful, enchanting.

Reviews by Laura Francis

theSpace on Niddry St

The Bastard Queen

Traverse Theatre


The Assembly Rooms

A Split Decision

Pleasance Courtyard

Show Off


Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

A host of Carroll's weird and wonderful characters guide you deeper into the imagined worlds you have forgotten. Where will your dreams take you? ****1/2 (Adelaide Advertiser). 'Edinburgh Fringe royalty' (Time Out). Sell-out 2011.

Most Popular See More

The Phantom of the Opera

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Frozen the Musical

From £36.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Lion King

From £46.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Tina - The Tina Turner Musical

From £12.00

More Info

Find Tickets