There are no innocent bystanders, not at immersive theatre productions like nerve’s Alice (running until the end of October) so a traditional theatre review nearly misses the point. What I got out of the opening night performance was a function of where I chose to move, what I chose to witness, how I chose to interact. Your Mileage Most Assuredly Will Vary. And therein lies much of the delight.
For me, Alice was a darkly fun meditation on identity, a fantasia about authenticity and the sorrows brought by its lapses, played through fresh presentations of characters I thought I knew. I’m told all the dialogue is actually Lewis Carroll’s words, drawn from both the Alice books and from his poetry. You think you know Alice? Think again. This adaption from Kathe Koja and Steve Xander Carson opens a new doorway to access the world.
I’d experienced several of Nerve’s pop-up performances, the relatively light-hearted game-like interventions they’ve staged in the area but honestly I wasn’t prepared for such a serious piece. From the Caterpillar’s opening soliloquy to the Carpenter’s benediction, Alice asked “who are you?” and showed various ways of answering and of avoiding the question. Tweedledee, for instance, looked obsessively for a soul mate while constantly projecting her own inner emptiness. But there was true heart-felt connection also in this Wonderland, glimpsed for instance in the poignant moment when the Hare bids farewell to Rabbit. Even the insane chattering at the Hatter’s tea party recalled the familiar repartee of old friends, the crazy broken record conversations longtime companions often lapse into.
Scattered around these scripted segments were various opportunities for audience interaction. I played ring toss in a game room where horrors were transformed into amusements, where score was tallied pointlessly and where the prizes were more debt– oddly reminiscent of many suburban rec rooms. I didn’t spend much time in the garden though I contributed a quick sketch to the prompt “What does beauty look like?”
But Wonderland was not all fun and games. Lurking around the scenes constantly were the Red Queen and Pale King whose creepy-sexy interplay of raw power and bizarre subjection was deliciously disturbing. When they brutally murdered two of the characters, I seriously thought I should intervene. The truest antidote to such atrocity was the Carpenter’s poetry, a few chance lines muttered in the dark.
Choose-your-own-adventure productions like Alice inevitably– intentionally, in fact– mean that no single audience member can see it all. I largely lost track of W. Rabbit, for instance, though I bet she was disturbed by the messy chaos of the sets. Alice is not a conventional night at the theatre. Stay home and watch re-runs if you want to sit in a chair. I can imagine a product warning label:
Caution: Alice involves running; darkness, both physical and existential; confusion; unscripted interactions; strobe lights and screams. Not ideal for children under 14 or adults who are smug and complacent.
But if you’re game, the hole to this Wonderland is only open ’til the end of October, with a special performance on Hallowe’en night. Need more convincing? Read the playbill here.