In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the mad tea party falls in chapter seven, but it’s the starting point for Jabberwocky Theatre’s Waiting for Alice, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic 1865 children’s book.
And we’re all invited. As we enter the room, a lawn littered with table, teapots and brightly coloured cakes, the Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse are already bustling about. One of them hands me a teacup and saucer and pours me a cup of blue, viscose tea (I strongly advise you not to sip). But why are they here? None of them seems to know. It’s a riddle.
White Rabbit is slightly better informed. He’s instructed by Carroll’s omnipotent voice to go above ground, find an idea called Alice and bring her back down the rabbit hole. The author is lacking a protagonist, and Rabbit obeys, believing it will lead to a bigger role for him.
It’s the sad Mock Turtle, who’s been around longest, who really understands what’s going on. Whoever or whatever Alice is, her arrival spells the end of the creating, the point at which you’re either written in or written out. Unchanging. Forever. And that’s a long time, knows the turtle.
As a sometime novelist (and all-time bookworm) who has experienced first-hand how characters can, exhilaratingly, take on a life of their own, I love the contrasting premise of Waiting for Alice: that, rather than carrying on regardless, they may be forever fixed in aspic, the author’s inspiration denuding them of their own free will.
Tea and cake or not, it’s definitely food for thought, well and whimsically conceived and staged. And, no doubt, even more filling for Carroll fans.