Ever since Lewis Carroll first released his groundbreaking existential novel in 1865, there have been endless stage, screen – and even dance – versions of what must easily be the most unstageable book in the history of English literature. So it was with some trepidation that I took my seat for Blue Raincoat Theatre Company’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland at the Traverse Theatre tonight.
Even Disney has tried unsuccessfully to bring this story to the screen many times, from the 1936 Mickey Mouse short Thru the Mirror, to the visually-striking but narratively-confused 1951 Alice in Wonderland, and most recently, of course, was Tim Burton’s CGI-dependent interpretation. Yet this tiny six-actor ensemble puts million dollar Hollywood budgets to shame and is the purest and most stunning adaptation of the story imaginable.
Taking her lead from Jonathan Miller’s acclaimed 1966 TV version, designer Avril Lahiff has avoided a common trap and foregone accurate recreations of the original Tenniel illustrations; instead the cast tonight are dressed in ordinary – if slightly steampunk – Victorian costumes. They move fluidly from one character to the next, with two Alices alternately acting out and narrating the tale while the rest of the company glide effortlessly from the Cheshire Cat to the Duchess to the Mad Hatter – without any loss of belief or credibility.
There is vision, imagination and stage magic aplenty in this show, whilst never losing track of Carroll’s unsurpassable dialogue, word play and wit. No concession is made to the possibility of modern day children – spoon-fed on sound bites and glossy computer-generated imagery – missing a point or joke; in fact, many of Carroll’s most intricate witticisms fly cleanly over the head of two-thirds of the adult audience tonight.