Thu, 20 Aug 2020
Creation Theatre: Alice A Virtual Theme Park, in front rooms everywhere, until August 30
Review by JON LEWIS
OXFORD’s Creation Theatre Company and Big Telly Theatre Company, from Northern Ireland, the two leading innovators of live Zoom interactive theatre, partnering up with Charisma.ai, an artificial intelligence organisation, offer internet audiences a unique, immersive entertainment based on Lewis Carroll’s iconic Oxford story Alice in Wonderland.
Directed by the ever-playful Zoe Seaton 20 years after she first directed Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Creation, she’s worked with playwright Charlotte Keatley to devise a production that’s a hugely enjoyable, personalised experience for each set of viewers.
The immersive experience begins before we’re accepted into Wonderland as we can chat with a virtual, talking, riddling Cheshire Cat that responds in real time to questions and answers. Then, with the magic of AI, screenshots of each set of viewers is spun down the earthy rabbit hole along with Alice (Leda Douglas). We navigate our way through Wonderland by selecting from on-screen icons the break-out scenes we want to enter. On gallery view we see different viewers in every scene, depending on our choices. It’s like a Punchdrunk play where theatregoers can wander off into different spaces for their interactions, but in their shows audiences don’t get to play collective video games on mobile phones or play musical statues to tunes like Killer Queen.
The internet game is a race of hedgehogs, children at home controlling their avatars. A headmistressy Queen of Hearts (Vera Chok) focuses her beady eyes on us as we dance and then freeze, choosing people who move to answer a life-saving question. We don’t get to see all the scenes in Wonderland in one sitting – a clever marketing ploy to gain repeat
attendances to experience what we’ve missed.
On our journey through the final trial scene, which everyone watches, we encounter a deliciously dippy Italian baker (Annabelle Terry, who also plays the Dormouse), circus acrobats Tweedledum and Tweedledee, their dual roles created by a cleverly-positioned mirror, and take part in the tea party hosted by the Mad Hatter (Dharmesh Patel, with a model of a theatre auditorium perched surreally on his head). We join in the tea party, changing places on our sofas every so often,
monitored by the actors, and take part in a lobster quadrille old-fashioned knees-up.
Along with Nicky Harley’s slightly paranoid White Rabbit and Colm Gormley’s PR-savvy March Hare, this excellent cast brings audience and the Wonderland narrative together in a way that’s both safe and thrillingly theatrical. A must-see for August.