“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” So goes the formula for story-telling proposed by the King of Hearts in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is advice which seems likely to be ignored by the team behind Oxford’s latest stage adaptation of the seminal book, which has been chosen as the Trinity Lawns Play this year.
Writers Tom Elliott and Howard Coase have gone out of their way to make their adaptation stand out from the crowd. So, Alice Liddell (the inspiration for the fictional Alice) is the heroine of this tale, set during a tea party hosted by her parents, at which the guests are the play’s audience. Seats will be grouped around a number of tables, with tea, scones and cucumber sandwiches promised to all who turn up. This party will clash with the fantastical world of our heroine’s imagination, as the action moves between the Liddell’s formal event and Alice’s magical ‘Wonderland’. Details were scant on exactly how this contrast will be staged, but Elliott informed me that his intention was to draw out the tension between Alice’s escapist fantasy, and the responsibilities and realities of her leaving childhood behind. Central to this will be the figure of Charles Dodgson, or Lewis Carroll, played by George Ferguson. It is to his stories that Alice turns in order to escape the real world, and it is his influence which her parents are trying to discourage as she becomes a young woman. The inclusion of this meta-narrative will raise eyebrows as it will touch on the controversial relationship between Alice and Dodgson, one of literature’s most enduring, and disturbing, mysteries. It is something of a minefield for the writer, but, if handled well, this could raise the production well above the average Alice adaptation.
With the brave choices on staging and the Dodgson subplot, the only worry is that the Wonderland scenes will fail to live up to this promise. The scene which we saw, the Mad Hatter’s tea party, certainly held few surprises, and suggested a fairly faithful interpretation. The surreal, slightly sinister madness of the Hare and the Hatter (Fred Ellis and Michael Roderick) is brought out consummately by the direction of Rachel Finegold – who has the characters springing around in a controlled yet seemingly chaotic manner – and yet there is little new or experimental in the scene. Perhaps, though, she is right to stay true to such rich source material. The adaptation and staging should hopefully add an intriguing element to the play, and leave the audience with new impressions of this familiar work. Even if this fails, however, the experience is guaranteed to be a lot of fun, and one you’ll struggle to find anywhere else.
PHOTO / Alice in Wonderland