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Posts Tagged ‘Lewis Carroll’

At the core of this piece is an inspired idea. An Alice for the internet generation. Apparently substantially rewritten since its Manchester International Festival debut it still isn’t finished though. 

Aly’s parents have split. She lives with her mum and baby brother and misses her dad. School is shit. She’s got cyber-bullies on her back. Then she discovers a virtual reality world in wonder.land and with her new avatar she enters it and meets her alter ego Alice and the rest of Lewis Carroll’s cast. Until, that is, school headmistress Ms Manxome confiscates her smart phone, steals her avatar and plays a darker game in wonder.land.

The music is OK, but not great, as if Damon Albarn hasn’t really found his musical theatre voice (his last two music theatre works were billed as operas). There’s a ‘look’ but its a bit obvious – shades of grey in the real world, with a multi-coloured wonder.land. There’s also no cohesive style to the staging; it’s a bit all over the place. The projections are good, though. 

Anna Francolini makes a good baddie, but it’s a panto villain nonetheless. Carley Bawden is uncannily her double as Alice. Lois Chimimba is a sweet Aly and Enyi Okoronkwo cute as her friend Luke. Hal Fowler is a larger than life presence as the MC (Cheshire Cat / Caterpillar). Above all, I liked Paul Hilton’s dad, though his role in the tea party scene suggests he may not get through the run without breaking a bone or two.

It’s still in preview, but I saw the 6th of 7 previews, so it’s hard to see how they can improve it enough by the press night to get a better reception than V.1 got in Manchester. I have a soft spot for polymath Damon Albarn, but I enjoyed this a lot less than Monkey or Dr. Dee, I’m afraid.

 

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I’m one of the few people who took against John Logan’s last play, Red, about Mark Rothko. The first hour was a rant by the artist, by the end of which I had lost the will to live. This play is a whole lot better.

Peter was one of five Llewelyn Davies boys who were befriended by J M Barrie and the source of his famous character, Peter Pan. Rev. Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll wrote his first Alice story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for Alice Liddell, having first told her the story on an outing. This is the fame they live with and share. In the play they meet on the centenary of Dodgson’s birth when they are 35 and 80 respectively. Davies, now a publisher, uses the opportunity to encourage Liddell, now Hargreaves, to write her memoirs, which sends us on a journey to meet the respective writers and their characters.

It’s a multi-layered play which tells the stories of these real people, whose lives were both touched by the tragedy of loss – Alice of two sons and Peter of two brothers – but also of their relationships with both the writers and their characters and the impact of their somewhat unusual fame. This opens the play up as we flash back in time and meet Carroll & Barrie plus the fictitious Peter & Alice. The writing isn’t entirely even – it does lag at times, despite the short 90 minute length, and Alice has all the best lines – but it’s an inspired idea and unfolds intriguingly.

One of the chief pleasures of Michael Grandage’s production is seeing Judi Dench, as captivating as ever, and Ben Whishaw, who has grown into such a fine actor. The age difference between the actors is almost the same as their characters. There’s excellent support from Nicholas Farrell as Dodgson / Carroll and Derek Riddell as Barrie. Olly Alexander & Ruby Bentall bring the fictional characters alive impressively. Grandage’s regular designer Christopher Oram has created a superb transformative design.

Alice is a role worthy of Dench’s talent (her last West End outing was the dreadful Madame de Sade!) and Peter is a role worthy of Whishaw’s first proper West End showcase. It’s great to see a new play open in the West End, with the real buzz of full house signs and autograph hunters crowding the stage door; most start life in the subsidised sector these days. It’s also the only new play in Grandage’s five-play first season, so success might help get us more new work next time.

In a delicious twist, both works of fiction were staged in this very theatre. Another fact new to me was that Logan also wrote Skyfall, in which both Dench & Whishaw of course acted. Adele didn’t do the music, though!

If you can get in, you should.

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