The Drama Society has never been one to shy away from a challenge, and their production of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is no different, audaciously choosing to stage the whole play under UV (or ‘black’) light – becoming the first production at RHUL to do so.
The lighting’s unique challenges become its powerful benefits: if only florescent things are visible, then why not make half the ensemble invisibly manipulate objects and environments? Seeing rooms grow and shrink and flamingos being used as croquet mallets before one’s eyes in the SU hall makes one wonder how Lewis Carroll’s surreal, size-shifting, anthropomorphic adventures down the rabbit-hole could have been staged any other way.
The script was co-directed and co-penned by second year students Christianna Mason and Pamela Carralero, who intended to create ‘not only a play but a dazzling, fun spectacle’, whilst retaining ‘all of Lewis Carroll’s original elements that have made the story so timeless and intriguing to all ages’. An undeniably ambitious project.
As a consequence, ‘Alice’ finds itself in a constant balancing act between giving the audience the spectacle the black lighted stage allows, and retaining dramatic momentum. It generally succeeds, and the physical ensemble (known, from traditional Japanese theatre, as ‘kurogo’, meaning ‘black clothes’) must be applauded for their creation of the dreamlike ribbons, arrows and gremlins that float and crawl around the stage, effectively creating an unsteady, ephemeral Wonderland for the inquisitive Alice.
However, it must be said that the script suffered from occasional inertia, and once or twice the dialogue seemed awkwardly prolonged simply for the sake of the luscious effects being played out around it (apart from the opening scene, which arguably didn’t allow us quite enough time to get our bearings before plunged down the rabbit-hole). On the other hand, Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky, from ‘Alice’s’ sequel ‘Through the Looking-Glass’, was cleverly integrated, acting variously as prologue, introduction and monologue throughout the play.
The leads all threw themselves into an unfamiliar stage with aplomb, not only often using the lighting to their advantage (I sincerely hope that the Cheshire Cat’s sinister, hovering smile won’t appear out of the dark over my bed any time soon), but playing animals, insane royals and playing cards with the necessary nonsensical flair, in vibrantly imaginative costumes. From David Bullen’s Hatter’s fruity shrieks about unbirthdays to Andrew Crane’s Mock Turtle’s, piercing, prostrate lamentations, the ensemble was generally superb. Brigitta Rose, a first year drama student, played a believably bright-eyed and bemused Alice, being shuttled from one bizarre episode to the next.
This reviewer sincerely looks forward to seeing the Drama Society being half as adventurous as this in the future.