Instead of falling down a rabbit hole, Alice has been forcibly committed into a mental institution. This darker take on Carroll’s children’s book is not entirely original but it is different in that it fully commits to the concept that Alice is mentally ill, and has never actually ventured into Wonderland.
With some further development this could be a very good performance: the actors are very capable, and the base idea is definitely there.
The opening of the play is a little gimmicky, as the audience are welcomed in by two attendants, aka Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee, while Alice stands onstage peering through a looking glass.
The staging and setting of the play is overwhelmingly jarring. The costumes are modern, but the speech is Victorian, and the manner in which the patients are treated by their nurse and doctor is implausible and frankly unethical. Treatment on offer includes electrotherapy, strangely intrusive group therapy, a tea party involving an irritating round of croquet, and some Cinderella-style cleaning. The play could perhaps have benefitted from a more realistic context, that could have better been used to examine Alice’s delusions. Mixing reality and delusion to the extent this play does is very ambitious, and certainly has the effect of questioning reality, but ultimately proves a bit too confusing.
It appears to attempt to cover mature themes that it doesn’t seem to fully comprehend. The play in no way makes light of mental health – indeed it is refreshing to see that the protagonist is not magically cured at any point in the narrative. But each character’s development could have been enhanced by a more accurate presentation of life in a mental institution that could have been dated to a particular time. The Nurse, aka the Red Queen, is almost a pantomime villain, while Dr Ted, channeling the Caterpillar, seems entirely stoned throughout. These actors give good performances in their roles, but again, their characters could have been built more convincingly, while still channeling Carroll. The inmates of Alice’s ward seem to depict the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and the Dormouse, but occasionally all take on different roles. Some of the dialogue and direction is a little too corny, and at times too obvious.
The piece is not at all without merit. The physical theatre aspects, when fully committed to, work well, especially during the torchlight sequences. The allusions to Carroll’s text work well indeed, though it is confusing, perhaps purposefully, when actors portraying certain Wonderland characters recite other character’s lines. With some further development this could be a very good performance: the actors are very capable, and the base idea is definitely there.