Wonderland in Alice, Theatre Peckham

by Luisa De la Concha Montes

Directed by Lisa Millar and choreographed by Christopher Tendai, Wonderland in Alice is an original adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s tale that explores its themes and tropes through contemporary dance and music, trippy visuals and dynamic stage design.

This piece, both original and daring, concisely brings new angles to the fore, reimagining the character of Alice and boldly asking how her character can truly become timeless. From the stage design to the music, each element ensures that her story is re-told through a Queer lens, proposing that the body is the primary space where identity is formed.

The clever costume design by Joca Veiga brings each character alive with a sense of non-binary beauty. The Cheshire Cat (Ann Chircop Beck), styled to embody curiosity and playfulness, fascinates Alice. Hypnotised, she starts mirroring the movements of the cat, creating a tender picture that explores the idea of belonging and admiration. In a riskier scene, the Mad Hatter (Cameron Everitt) performs a sensual dance for Alice, implying that sexual exploration is also a key part of finding oneself. Moreover, the Queen of Hearts’ (El Haq Latief) performance launches a full-on party with the cast, rhythmically building up the end of the play to a sense of ecstasy that reminds us of the link between LGBTQI+ safe spaces and the music scene. 

The dialogue is scarce and swiftly interposed between the music. This works well, as the collective body language of the ensemble makes up for it, and the few verbal intermissions become more poignant. However, at times, the sound design feels a bit lacking as the music is too loud for the audience to hear the Narrator’s voice.

Alice’s (Kira Nichols) performance is an amazing feat. Her body language, which never falls out of pace with the music, truly embodies her emotions. One of the most powerful scenes is when she performs what can only be described as a moment of body dysmorphia. We see her limbs moving uncontrollably, and we see her breaking down when she is unable to escape the vessel that is her own body. This scene creates a moment that is painful to watch, as it brings her mental struggle to a physical level. Overall, Nichols’ dance style faithfully displays Alice’s growth from an impressionable and passive observer to a self-aware, assured individual. 

The major achievement of this piece is the sense of collaboration present in the physical stunts. From the opening scene, where Alice is carried upwards and downwards by the other cast members, recreating the sense of falling down the rabbit hole, it becomes evident that fluid movement is the primary language of the cast. Each dancers’ skill set and style brings something to the stage, creating a stunning show that brings the abstract and metaphorical beauty of Alice’s journey to the physical realm.

A single question shines at the back of the stage throughout the play: “Who are you?” Instead of answering the question, Wonderland in Alice allows us to witness Alice’s complex journey, using a collective body language as the vessel through which we travel. In a quirky twist after the play, Christopher Tendai explains how he had to self-fund the project, as it didn’t fit any of the boxes in the grant categories he tried to apply for. This statement brings the project full circle, showing how Queer resistance is an act that continues even after the curtain is drawn.

Wonderland in Alice runs through 22 April at Theatre Peckham.

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