Alice in Wonderland was a huge part of my childhood, from the animated Disney film to the musical stage show. With memorable characters, it has long been associated with the idea of not fitting in and embracing the weird, thanks to iconic quotes such as ‘we’re all mad here’. Creative new production ‘Wonderland in Alice’ is based at Theatre Peckham from the 6th – 22nd April: a creative space in South London that is known for its considerate attitudes towards gender, sexuality, diversity and inclusion. A few weeks ago I received an invitation to review CTC Dance Company’s retelling of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s novel. I was intrigued by both the change of name and themes, which indicated an alternative perspective and new take on the source material. Adapting the original title, during the post-show talk artistic director Christopher Tendai appropriately compared the title change to the ‘topsy turvy’ content in Carroll’s work, but this version of Alice in Wonderland differs by centring on gender, LGBTQ+ representation and identity.
Another Alice adaptation?
The material has been covered many times before, so I was keen to attend the performance and see how the dance company could take the much-adored narrative and bring it into the twenty-first century. In popular culture there has always been this distinct image of who Alice should be: a well-to-do young girl that follows the White Rabbit down a hole into an enchanting land. I was interested to see if CTC would take the character in a completely different direction, with their reputation for producing art that is diverse, inclusive and topical.
Interpretation of the performance
Wonderland in Alice is by no means a light-hearted watch. It is haunting, intense and redefines the characters of the fantasy world, providing them with identities that don’t fit into the boundaries of society. In this production Alice, the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat and Queen Of Hearts are genderless, encouraging the audience to ask themselves in true Caterpillar style ‘who are you?’.
The character of Alice (Kira Nichols) goes on a journey throughout the show and through their encounters with the Wonderland residents, they begin to realise who they truly are. Cleverly written by Acken Taylor who is also the narrator and with choreography by Christopher Tendai, Wonderland in Alice uses the mediums of dance, spoken word and instrumental music to explore the lead character’s sense of self.
Reflecting on the movements and material
A metaphorical piece, Wonderland in Alice requires a high level of focus. It is incredibly thought-provoking and the collective company movements hold passion and tension. There were a few places where the synchronicity could have been slightly sharper, but what the company lacks in precision is made up for in the amount of power in every movement.
Furthermore, as much as I was impressed by the performers’ conviction and energy levels, the intensity can get a little too much at times. I think the production could benefit from a greater amount of breathing room between the passionate scenes. This would also give the audience more time to reflect on what they are watching. The introduction to the Queen of Hearts is a great example of how the tension could be spread from scene to scene, with the alternative tempo and change of dance style. I was able to fully concentrate on El Haq Latief’s phenomenal stage presence and precise steps, something that could have been utilised elsewhere to break up the pace of the production.
From the narration to the continuous movement, there is a lot to follow across the stage that sometimes I found myself missing some of Acken’s bespoke words. I was relieved to have the post-show talk at the end of the performance, so that I could hear more about the company’s vision and goals for the characters, thus broadening my interpretation of the piece.
From the checkerboard flooring to the luminous playing card themed lights, the simple set is extremely effective. Continuing on the theme of lighting, ‘Who am I?’ is displayed across the back wall of the stage, a lighting choice that takes on a double meaning: a nod to the Caterpillar’s famous line and the themes of gender questioning within the show. The production content is quite different to Lewis Carroll’s story, but using familiar motifs in the set design really helps set the scene for the show. The checkerboard, heart, spade, diamond and club instantly transport audiences to Wonderland. Even in this unique adaptation, the magical location remains true to Carroll’s imagination.
In contrast, on a few occasions I found the flash lighting to be slightly harsh. The use of bold colours is visually impressive and fits well with the different characters on stage, but unfortunately at times there was an uncomfortable dazzling effect. Theatre Peckham is an intimate space and given the audience’s proximity to the stage, perhaps the flashing could be toned down slightly. I think the red and pink hues are strong enough on their own and a softer approach to flash lighting could be adopted.
Looking to the future
An innovative, inspired and thoughtful piece of dance theatre, I was wowed by the company’s movement and storytelling skills. Kira Nichols was on stage almost the entire show and they were spellbinding as Alice. I did struggle with the intensity of the material at times, but this did not affect my overall enjoyment of the piece.
Wonderland in Alice is a forward-thinking production that carefully looks at gender binary through the lens of a classic story. If you go and watch CTC Dance Company’s latest work, your mind is likely to transcend to the themes covered when you exit the theatre, specifically gender, society and how we can be more inclusive going forwards. Tickets for the remaining performances of this impactful production can be purchased from Theatre Peckham’s website.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*My ticket for Wonderland in Alice was gifted in exchange for a review of the production.