Alice In Wonderland is a creepy piece of literature, but that creepiness is magnified exponentially in Fourth Monkey’s immersive promenade production. We are thrust into a liminal world, teetering on the edge of fantasy and fiction, where the surreal elements of the book are matched to their real life inspirations. Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College Oxford, plays games with Mr Rabbit, Lewis Carroll, and together they write their escapist world into existence.
Herded between four floors and six or seven rooms, the audience is witness to a critical moment in the relationship between Alice and Carroll. He creates with her, but he also takes pictures of her, talks of her ‘seductive smile’ and writes love letters to her. The book’s whimsy and childishness have been revised into a veiled account of Carroll’s rumoured paedophilia.
Each room reveals a new set piece, beginning firmly in Oxford with Alice bothering the cook, and slowly descending into Wonderland as the show reaches its climax. Some of these set pieces are spectacular, a couple drag on a bit too long, but all have been designed with the closest attention to detail. Each room is stuffed full of period props and every costume is spot on – especially the steampunk goggles of the two actors playing the Cheshire cat. One room contains actual photos of Alice Liddell taken by Carroll, showing the young girl in various suggestive poses. They shatter the production’s illusion. Fourth Monkey has taken various liberties in making a production that combines biography and fiction, but there is a reality, too, a part of history in which Carroll actually took these photos – and thousands more of other children. Perhaps it was just a part of the Victorian aesthetic, an appreciation of innocence and experimentation with the new photographic technology. Fourth Monkey suggests it was something more.
Shuffling 50 people up and down narrows staircases, giving them time to sit cross legged, stand up, sit down again takes time and, although the ushers and actors are firm in telling us where to go (in fact putting a foot in the wrong place feels like being told off by a teacher), still the slow movements cut off the production’s momentum.
But every scene is perfectly rehearsed by an outstanding group of performers – particularly the psychotic, manic hare – and every audience member’s experience will be different (I accidentally got married to Alice’s sister). Increasingly the production felt like Gene Wilder’s wide-eyed descent in the boat in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, pushing creepiness just a step too far beyond what a children’s story should be. Alice is an immersive midnight spectacle, dark and disturbing, that marries stunning attention to detail with an excellent cast. But that little white rabbit will never be the same again.
Alice is at theSpace on North Bridge (Venue 36) until 23 August. For more information and tickets visit the EdFringe website.