Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Curiouser Review: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland. Choreographed by Francois Klaus. Queensland Ballet. Playhouse House Theatre. Continues till April 14. Photograph Queen of Hearts (Kathleen Doody) and King of Hearts (Gareth Belling). Photograph: Ken Sparrow.

Like  most who have caught up with Queensland Artistic Director Francois Klaus' re-working of his own 2007 hit Alice in Wonderland, I was enchanted with the production.

I loved its sense of innocence, charm, humour and wit drawn from Lewis Carroll’s magical nonsense tales (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass first published in 1865 and 1871 or ‘72) and came out of the Playhouse feeling uplifted.

I could wax lyrical, weaving phrases and paragraphs into adoring tributes about the artists (including four young Alices), creatives such as set and costume designer Richard Jeziorny and lighting director Glenn Hughes as well, of course, choreographer Francois Klaus.

However, I am not into taking the route of a conventional review, but rather consumed with following that brisk cheeky 'Iam late-Iam late' White Rabbit into the mystical borrow which revealved Tweedledum and Tweedledee, The Red Queen, Humpty Dumpty, the Mad Hatter and the wonderful Cheshire Cat among others.

I want to go behind the scenes and explore, for at least a short while, the sometimes controversial world of Lewis Carroll whom within the refined cloisters of Oxford was known as the Reverend Charles Dodgson.

Dodgson (1832-’98) is an unlikely candidate for the title ‘greatest children’s writer of the Victorian era’(which produced so many talented scribes) being equally well known as a mathematician, portrait photographer, lecturer and crashing bore when he gave his annual sermon with a profound stutter.

AD Klaus quite rightly says in his Choreographer’s Notes that the relationship between Dodgson and the little girl, who inspired the Alice stories, Alice Liddell, is secondary to the cast of wonderful characters and their totally engaging stories.

Still I, like so many other students of these fine works, am captivated by the real-life story of Dodgson who came from a staid background peppered with figures mostly drawn to the English religious establishment.

Dodgson was living a conventional life in an ivory tower existence when he first met the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church, 10-year-old Alice Liddell and her siblings, through a friendship with her mother Lorina Liddell.

He would take them out rowing – only Edwardians loved messing about on the river more then the Victorians – and entertain them with wonderful out-this-world nonsense tales.

There’s some who say that Dodson’s stutter, which made his required annual sermon a pain, disappeared when he was talking to children, but this, like so much other Dodgson mythological, is hotly disputed.

Then there’s the pictures.

Dodgson was at the forefront of the new art form and, like so many other Victorians, liked to photograph children as fairies and in other provocative ways.

This has added to the fuel to the fire of debate about his relationship with Children – even Mrs Liddell was said to be concerned – but the majority of commentators believe that Dodgson was a benign figure whose connection to children was  innocent.

Much of the debate centres on what might have been going through his head and who can really tap into such an imaginative mind that was with us for 65 years, and vanished from this place more then a century ago?

These themes have, understandably, been explored in books, plays and films including Dennis Potter’s magnificent movie script Dreamchild (1986) which feature some of Jim Henson’s wonderful re-creating of Carroll characters coming back to haunt an aging Alice.

My stand is that Carroll was an innocent who found it easier to communicate with children then adults, because they embraced the wonderful topsy-turvy world that seemed so straight forward to him.

To me suggesting that Carroll had a ambition to foster a dark side of his personality on little children is as distasteful as suggesting that the late Steve Irwin was cruel to animals.

Carroll’s love – if love is the appropriate word – was the genuine, unforced affection of a man who saw the world through the eyes of a child and turned those fleeting flights of the imagination into some of the most remarkable tales ever written.

Before I leave this subject, I’d just like to congratulate Francois for his truly inspired  eclectic choice of music including the works of composers such as  Britten, Shostakovich and Rimsky-Korsakov as well as popular numbers such as Alexander’s Ragtime Band, The Three Cornered Hat and the Tango and The Polka from the Bolt Suit.

Watch out for the Queensland Ballet’s next mainhouse production, Don Quixote, which opens at the Playhouse Theatre in May and  then I’ll tell you of the unique connection between the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and this famous ballet.  

For those looking for a more conventional review (that is a compliment) try my friend Eric Scott's Absoloute Theatre more Queensland Ballet info try  

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