The story of Alice and her travels through the rabbit hole into Wonderland has entranced readers and audiences for over 140 years. Given the Oxford connection, there have been a number of theatrical presentations of the adventures in recent times. This year, Oxford Theatre Guild bring their own twist by presenting a devised production featuring a cast of 14 under the direction of Sam Knipe and Alice Evans.
Anyone who goes along to the OFS Studio Theatre expecting a traditional version will be somewhat disappointed. The creative process has taken the original novel and used it as a stepping-off point for a much more radical and challenging re-imagining.
This Alice is more modern – a teenager seeking meaning to her life and to escape from the pressures of the world around her. Not quite the innocent ten year old in a pretty blue dress that you might expect. The inhabitants of Wonderland are transformed into members of a circus troop (who sport some excellently designed and constructed costumes – courtesy of Tom Couling and Rosie Dennington.)
Gone are the cute anthropomorphic characters and we are presented with a much more dystopian picture and one that, if you did not have a reasonable working knowledge of the original novel, could be somewhat confusing. I would certainly not recommend that you take young children along.
The most successful parts of the evening for me were when the cast stuck more closely to the original text – particularly in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. In these sections the fusion between their vision and that of the original are most closely aligned. Other parts of the narrative do not come over quite so clearly to the audience. The cast show enormous dedication and passion for what they are doing – there is a clear bond between them all – essential for the physical nature of what they bring to the stage.
Devised theatre is never going to be to everyone’s tastes. It is a brave company that undertakes such work. Oxford Theatre Guild have certainly taken this leap with great energy and commitment. It is up to the audiences to judge how far they have succeeded.