by Angus Wolfe Murray
The wonder is the land and the land is the stage. If nothing else the Lyceum’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s dreamscape looks terrific. The set designers and wardrobe crew have surpassed themselves.
What can be said for the play? Or is it a pantomime? Writer/director Anthony Neilson is not quite sure. Every now and again there is a song, infinitely forgettable, and every now and again you can hear the lyrics, which doesn’t help. The rest is a mess.
Alice, who follows the white rabbit into an alternative universe where she meets talking animals and weirdo freaky things as well as the Queen of Hearts who makes Saddam Hussein look like a choirboy and the King of Hearts who is more camp than a Boy Scouts’ jamboree, is like an innocent bystander. She’s young enough not to know her own mind and wise enough not to worry about it. Jess Peet, who plays her, is too old at twentysomething and has a quiet voice which is a relief since everyone else shouts a lot.
You cannot follow the storyline as there seems no connection between one scene and another. The famous tea party has been ditched in favour of Mad Hatter mayhem during which plates and cakes go flying. The humour, for what it’s worth, which isn’t much, relies on overacting and underwhelming stick slappery. The funniest moment – the only moment? – is when two gardeners attempt to understand how a step ladder works. This is beautifully played at an easy pace with almost no dialogue. Everything else has the feel and energy of a car crash.
There is a suspicion that Neilson believes kids enjoy grown ups behaving badly so there is no subtlety here and yet what makes Alice’s Adventures so memorable on the page are the details, the characterisations, the wit and the girl herself. This is her story, this is her life and she’s having no nonsense.
Neilson’s Alice is a victim of circumstance. She’s a bumper car without a steering wheel. Where’s she going? What’s she doing?
It’s not about her. It’s about the others. And yet the others are not given the space nor the time to develop. Loudmouths rule!
The Mad Hatter isn’t mad. He’s pretending to be mad and it shows. The mock turtle survives the soup and keeps giggling. The white rabbit doesn’t care if he’s late.The griffin would prefer to be playing a dodgy geezer in Emmerdale and Alice is saved by special effects.
Somewhere, deep in the drowned distance of make believe, Lewis Carroll’s memory is crying.