A surreal experience is guaranteed to anyone who takes up their invitation to Oxford’s maddest tea-party, accessible, so a little caterpillar tells me, only via a rabbit hole (read here: garden path transformed with a little Wonderland imagination). To be hosted in a cosy corner of the Trinity lawns, you adventuring Alices will find a quaint cluster of tables, laden with teatime treats all for your indulgence, and a decidedly schizophrenic group of fellow guests. I am, of course, in circuitous fashion referring to a new dramatic adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s vintage classic Alice in Wonderland that promises to populate Trinity’s lawns with all those favourite oddities, the Mad Hatter, March Hare, sleepy Dormouse and that fearsome Queen of Hearts demanding all heads to be lopped off.
With teatime being shared between audience and characters, the sense of participating in a theatrical experience rather than merely being passively privy to it is bound to be exciting as characters spill out of Wonderland, maybe even planting themselves among the audience, as the familiar story of confident Alice unfolds. The “fourth wall”, then, if not exploded through will be made decidedly unstable as the audience partakes in their tea, in the stage party. Boundaries are unsettled further as two parties seem to occur together, as we are shuttled between the Liddells’ celebration of their daughter Alice’s coming of age in prim and proper fashion and a rather more raucous occasion in Wonderland.
This dual element is a key concept behind this reimagining of the story. Carroll’s fraught relations with the Liddells, due to what we can only say was an atypical interest in their young daughter who inspired the fictional Alice, are to be inserted into a historical and controversial narrative lending dramatic energy to the coming of age party. Wonderland performs bizarre transformations on these “real” personages, with most actors playing one corresponding role within each world, often contrasting as with one actress who plays both Mrs Liddell and the Queen of Hearts. Two polarised worlds thus collide, an adult social world whose conventional rules must be manoeuvred and a childhood Wonderland equally demanding manoeuvre, but of the imaginative kind.
The warping of characters suggests subconscious activity, and indeed this is played up to the extent of mental pathology. Interactions between madcap characters (which is just about all of them) are intense, bizarre ripostes and logical/illogical quips thrown left, right and centre, with really dynamic movement to accompany, to a potentially overwhelming degree – though who doesn’t want that kind of experience in Wonderland?
I think this sounds a fun concept, so do go along and enjoy your teapot of pimms. Don’t things just become curiouser and curiouser…?
Alice in Wonderland will run from Wednesday to Saturday of 6th week. More information can be found at www.trinitylawnsplay.co.uk