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Alice at the Asylum: Mad Wonderland

Alice at the Asylum at the Old Fire Station, Oxford, from Friday, February 2 to Sunday 4.

Review by JON LEWIS

Alice at the Asylum Photo by Yiannis Katsaris
Alice at the Asylum Photo by Yiannis Katsaris

London-based Theatre Lab Company’s latest show, Alice at the Asylum, directed by Anastasia Revi, has moments of captivating beauty, stunning costumes, arresting tableaux and an intriguing script written by one of the company, Lydia Vie, who also plays Alice. A story steeped in Oxford lore has been repositioned to an abandoned and fantastical old asylum in London.

A musician (Hades), dressed like Gene Simmons from the metal group Kiss, holds a white electric guitar. He presides over a very long table that will be central to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. A selection of edgy rock from the late seventies plays over the speakers: Talking Heads, Iggy Pop, The Cure and David Bowie. A frazzled middle-aged Greek-British businessman, Mr Rose (Manolis Emmanouel) enters the derelict asylum in London, on the phone to a partner, Mr Lucas, talking about demolishing the facility.

Alice at the Asylum
Alice at the Asylum

There’s resistance from the asylum to its demolition as spirits emerge from under the table, seemingly from the past. Alice is dressed in Miss Havisham white rather than the traditional pale blue outfit, sporting a spiky dog collar and an array of leather bracelets. With ravishing looks, Alice is a wild child, alluring but also damaged, perhaps with loneliness issues. The Mad Hatter / March Hare (David Furlong) is possibly bi-polar, one half of his face white, the other black. He is always in conversation with himself, talking in a permanent contradiction. The Cheshire Cat (Sevi Filippidou, who morphs later into the Queen of Hearts), White Rabbit (Christiana Maycea) with skin like a baked Alaska and Caterpillar (Rujenne Green) all join Alice in the first song, about drinking tea. The many numbers are entertaining and witty, some exuding a quiet horror as in Dancing with Demons under the Bed.

Time, and timelessness, are arrestingly conceptualised within the image of a bowl of sugar, sweet clouds of time that are blown across the stage in a miasma of saccharine beauty. Rose’s modern pedantry is no match for Alice and her fellow inmates; it is his mind that unravels, defeated by the Queen’s sophisticated riddles. Like last year’s Emmeline, an interesting show.

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