In pictures: Syrian refugee Amal meets Alice in Oxford City centre
Amal Meets Alice in Oxford City Centre on Tuesday, October 26.
Review by JON LEWIS
Oxford’s medieval streets were the perfect location for an immersive troubadour procession that took place last Tuesday.
Audiences witnessed the journey of Good Chance Theatre’s 3.5m tall puppet Little Amal, a refugee girl who has made her way from the Syrian border to the UK in a project, The Walk. Overseen by the Young Vic’s former artistic director David Lan, Amal was first seen in Stephen Daldry’s Young Vic production The Jungle in 2017.
Amal, constructed by War Horse creators Handspring, with dreadlocked hair, eyes and mouth that move and a colourful Syrian costume, moves with a puppeteer on stilts inside and another outside animating the arms. In Oxford, Amal was taking part in a unique production not seen in any other host city. Amal Meets Alice, written by Syrian author Nadine Kaadan for The Story Museum, and directed by Jeremy James, close by with a walkie talkie, began in the Botanical Gardens to a smaller, ticketed audience that included recent refugees from Afghanistan.
This scene, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice Through the Looking Glass, initially features another outsized puppet, Alice, animated by Smoking Apples Theatre Company, and a figure familiar from Oxford’s Alice Day celebrations every July.
Alice encounters the White Rabbit scampering across the Garden of Live Flowers, and then is threatened by some hostile flowers. Amal arrives to save her, but has her memories stolen from her by the Red Queen (Amber Lewis) and her minions (Tic au Tac dance company and Mandala Theatre Company).
Large white feathers representing these memories, and Amal’s sense of self, blow across the gardens over the audience. Amal and Alice hug and an Anglo-Syrian friendship is formed.
From here, Alice leads Amal across the city to an audience of thousands, accompanied by the brassy sounds of Oxford’s lively Horns of Plenty band. In each of the subsequent scenes, Amal recovers her memories.
The scenes represent Arab culture and events – a loaf of bread near the Grand Café, a book near the Weston wing of the Bodleian Library, a lullaby in Broad Street, a smoke flare in the Corn Market reminding her of the Syrian war – and touchingly, banners welcoming refugees to Oxford at the entrance to Christ Church Meadow made by artists from Cowley’s Ark-T Centre.
It was remarkable how Amal and Alice stopped the traffic in the city, workers, passengers on buses, students in their colleges leaning out of windows, suddenly reaching for their phone cameras to record this display of popular street culture.
The moments of simple humanity as the two girls hug, bend down to meet the crowds, and wave at people, will be remembered by many. A noteworthy event in Oxford’s cultural history.