#Tweetingit – 3* A young girl gatecrashes a drug and booze-fuelled party – is this wonderland? This play questions Carroll’s unhealthy obsession with children and draws comparison with recent Hollywood events. Thought provoking, but at times confusing.
My first visit to the Landor Theatre in almost three years was well timed, having recently opened after a re-fit. The pub has the same cosy atmosphere with its Chesterfield sofas and pool tables. The theatre had specialised in high kicking musicals performed in a space no bigger than a postage stamp. Now called the Landor Space, it plays host to the dark and mysterious Alice. The performance area is equipped with a revolving stage in the round. Rows of chairs and stools provided the audience with clear sight lines wherever they sat.
The story concentrates on a birthday party for Lewis thrown by his wife Catherine. Invited friends include food writer Damian with his wife Cesca; lawyer Andrew, whose ex Cecelia is also in attendance with her new squeeze Cara. The guest list is completed by the oldest member of the group Peter. The stage cleverly rotates throughout the performance, giving a panoramic view of characters as they interact with each other. Seated on scatter cushions, their expressions and gestures can be studied in detail. The astute use of space and lighting allows the audience to eavesdrop on the friends, as booze and other substances gradually loosen their inhibitions. A series of adult party games provoke deep philosophical debate, particularly guess who, as yellow post-it notes test their powers of deduction. All the guesses focussed on young people who died young. The short lives of Marilyn Munroe, JFK and Amy Winehouse are analysed in detail; Peter gloomily claimed Jesus would be sleeping rough if he were alive today.
Presently there is a knock on the door as 16 year old Alice inveigles her way into the party. She tries to appear streetwise but is gradually exposed as a child. Periodic freeze frames reveal a more sinister side to the friends’ personalities. They each confront Alice with cautionary tales of how life could turn on her. Then the party resumes with Alice seemingly back in the room. These sequences ultimately hold the key, but some are downright confusing; bearing little relationship with the apparent theme. Alice is billed as a dark contemporary take on the classic tale of Alice in Wonderland. Apart from the title character, there is only one definite reference to ‘Alice’. During a freeze frame sequence, Alice strays into the garden chasing a rabbit when Lewis spots her. Others may find parallels with the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, but such reference points are too tenuous to suggest a contemporary update.
The play’s true theme settles not on the classic tale of Alice, but more on the diminishing reputation of author Lewis Carroll. Revisionists now question his relationship with children and apparent fixation on his muse Alice Liddell. There are sadly, modern parallels in the strong exploiting the vulnerable. Unspeakable acts of cruelty by the late Jimmy Saville have gone unpunished; Harvey Weinstein’s reign of manipulation has been rightly exposed. The spotlight has also fallen on a raft of high profile figures in politics, sport and the performing arts. Yes, it’s an evil blot on the landscape that stayed too secret for too long. There is no doubting the intelligence and sincerity of this play. But it seems a convoluted way of making what is frankly an obvious link between the past and present. The script is overly fond of throwing in curveballs that aren’t always necessary. This might be intended to keep the audience on their toes, but only succeeds in confusing the issue. Some sequences will genuinely leave you scratching your head.
Script vagaries aside, the ensemble cast were on excellent form; particularly Malcolm Jeffries as Lewis; Laura Thomasina Haynes as Cesca and Tim Jennings as Andrew. A massive shout must also go out to the designers of the stage set. A revolving set in constant motion is a daring concept, and I’ve certainly not seen it done before. It makes performance of the play even more challenging as sets are, by and large fixed and facing the audience. A solid production but might benefit from a more straightforward approach.
Director: Or Benezra-Segal
Assistant Director: Esther Fernandez
Co-Directors: Nohar Lazarovich and Noa Wagner
Producers: Jonna Blode Hanno, Laura Thomasina Haynes and Mollie Macpherson for Three Trees Theatre
Booking Link: https://landorspace.tessera.info/tickets/alice
Box Office: 02077 373419
Booking until: 24 January 2018
Review: Brian Penn