Getting “Lost in Wonderland”
With a cake iced ‘Eat me’ in my hands, a white rabbit led us into a series of rooms; I encountered talking animals, a field of fiendish flowers and had tea with the Mad Hatter. In a dark basement I was told the tale of the Walrus and the Carpenter and learnt of the brutal Jabberwocky – and finally I was witness in an execution. As much as C.S. Lewis delivers a jovial fairy-tale, he also presents a macabre world of vicious monsters and barbarians – a side of the novel which is rarely commented on. It was these darker undertones which the Lion Theatre Company brought to life in their exploration of Alice’s adventures in a dystopian Wonderland. In each scenario we were transported to a new and fantastical location and made to experience a range of emotional vocabulary. So much so, even our rabbit guide was left disillusioned on one occasion, and led us down the wrong staircase where we waited outside the locked door of an empty room.
We began our tour in Hatfield’s chapel, where – from pews littered with playing cards and illuminated by fairy lights – we watched shadowy figures emerge from dimly lit corners. A fusion of dance tracks blared across speakers as Alice was encompassed in a blur of black. Then silence prevailed and the figures collapsed, releasing Alice from their grip. It was in the wake of this, that a haunting voice broke through the quiet – singing an A Cappella rendition of Gary Jules’ ‘Mad World.’ This evocative opening set the tone for the rest of the production, and I found that the sentiment captured by ‘Mad World’ lingered throughout all of the ensuing performances.
For the next forty minutes we were taken into a variety of rooms, each exploring a different part of Wonderland. Music was a principal feature in all of the scenes: In the room of flowers, the perennials chanted their name, allowing the text to take on a rhythmical quality. Similarly, in a basement storage room – where we were warned about the Jabberwocky – both actors recited the same text, but syncopated their readings and overlapped words creating an eerie and ominous atmosphere. In stark contrast to the sinister nature of the majority of the Wonderland snapshots, meeting the Mad Hatter was a welcome break. We sat and ate and drank with him, answered his riddles and became immersed within his lunacy. This was the most interactive of the rooms, and the colours and sounds stuck out against the bleakness of Alice’s journey up to that point.
Our adventure concluded with the famous ‘Off with her head’ scene, and we formed the crowd in the Queen of Heart’s Court. It was this last stop that felt most like a conventional performance, and – like the first room – it was here that a clear distinction was drawn between audience and performers. Release from each of the Wonderlands came with mixed feelings. Although some of the rooms induced fear, they were still addictively engaging. It’s not often in a performance you become wholly involved within the drama – but ‘Lost in Wonderland’ certainly achieved this. It was an exciting and innovative piece of theatre which kept actors and performers alike on their toes.