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Adventures in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll, adapted for the
stage by Jocelyn Clarke
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a now
classic book written for children that is sufficiently laden with wit, intelligence, and
brilliant imagination to command the attention of adult readers as well. The repute of its
author, Lewis Carroll, appears to have survived speculative revisionist histories which
suggested that his relationships with the young girls for whom he created Alice
were of less than totally honorable intent. Whatever conclusions history might ultimately
draw about his personal life will doubtlessly have no effect whatever on the ongoing
popularity of both Alice and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass;
these works transcend both author and generations. The content and the characters have
earned the status of myths of contemporary Western civilization, embedded in the cultural
consciousness. One would be hard pressed to find someone of even minimal education who
doesn't know of the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat.
Given such a richness of material, it is not surprising that
adaptations of Alice to stage and screen will be ventured from time to time. Disney, of course, has done it; more important for the adult
viewer, however, is Dreamchild, a 1986 film by Gavin Millar (with a
script by Dennis Potter) that brought extraordinary creativity in filmic terms to the
Carroll/Alice characters - a memorable work in its own right that, while not an adaptation
of the book, fully respected its spirit.
The National Theatre of Ireland, best known for its mainstage, the
Abbey Theatre, has initiated a program they call Peacock Partners, in which the
sophisticated production expertise of the Abbey team will be utilized in collaboration
with smaller, independent Irish theatre companies. The first presentation under the
program is in conjunction with the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company, a ten year old group
known for its use of mime and dance movement.
This Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is performed with no
scenery, utilizing two outsized ladderback chairs, a couple of ladders, a hat, a cane, and
little else in the way of props. It frames what is an abbreviated version of the book with
material directly from Lewis Carroll, himself played with dignity on stage by David Heap.
There are six actors (four of whom have studied mime) playing more than a dozen roles.
Director Niall Henry trained with Marcel
Marceau, but this is not a mime production - the characters have extensive spoken
parts. Mimetic technique and choreographed movement is used throughout with great skill,
but the techniques as executed here feel more conservative than avant-garde. These visual
aspects of the production are attractive and appealing, but they don't add much of
significance to the words or the characterizations.
The show comes alive sporadically when the wit of Carroll emerges -
when the Queen of Hearts (nicely played by Elizabeth Bracken) plays with the rules, for
example, or with Carroll's outrageously delicious puns: "We call him tortoise because
he taught us." The Cheshire Cat (John Carty) and the White Rabbit (Ciarán McCauley)
also provide amusing and appropriate segments. On the other hand the focal Alice of Fiona
McGeown is often shrill and over-intense; more contrast in the performance might make it
both more effective and more sympathetic.
The adaptation by Jocelyn Clarke flows smoothly enough and one cannot
fault the choices of inclusion. There is in the Carroll material plenty to bring to
mind the lessons for children that are simultaneously very adult themes: the role of those
aforementioned rules in the social fabric, how one must cope with the consequences of
one's behavior, even issues of aging and immortality. Overall, unfortunately, the
production doesn't rise to the brilliance of its materials; it never draws the audience
into its spell; it never attains leaps of theatrical inventiveness to match the literary
imagination of its source.
August 4 , 2000
- Arthur Lazere