Blue Elephant Theatre 23 – 24 October
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has been adapted many times over the years, with lots of shows not shying away from the adult themes of the novel. Joelene English Dance Theatre’s Alice: The Lost Chapter takes the audience down a particularly twisted rabbit hole on a dark and uncomfortable journey into Alice’s tormented mind.
Joelene English and her cast of four – Alicia Meehan, Charley Thompson, Kane Mills and Wayne Summerbell have created a sometimes-nightmarish narrative, beginning with Alice (Meehan) having her hair brushed by the red queen/mother figure in a sequence that seesaws between maternal love and a battle for power and submission. On a set resembling a weird and wonderful junk room, characters from Wonderland appear, leading her further down the rabbit hole. The rabbit is even more full of nervous energy than usual, and the Cheshire cat’s grins are more of a grimace. The Mad Hatter is even more bizarre, with moves and contortions reminiscent of Doug Jones’ best roles. Throwing himself behind the “bars” of a chair and ending up in a straightjacket, the Hatter’s mania is matched by the quieter but no less discomforting actions of Alice – constantly using her hair as curtains to hide behind or as a self-inflicted weapon to choke herself.
Alison Ashton’s beautifully lit set is full of surfaces on which eerie projections of the characters appear, and Jamie Cook’s unsettling soundscape that acts as the perfect accompaniment to the dancers’ narrative.
This isn’t an easy watch, but Alice: The Lost Chapter is an intriguingly uncomfortable and weirdly hypnotic exploration of a fragmented mind performed with passion, skill and finesse that should appeal to all lovers of dance.