A little bit of malice in Wonderland
Like Oxford punts you wait ages for a new Alice and then two come along at once. A mere six weeks after The Royal Ballet’s razzle-dazzle of a show comes the world premiere of Scottish Ballet’s altogether more sinister interpretation of the children’s story.
Without the narrative drive of the book’s linguistic games to fall back on the Royal’s Christopher Wheeldon added a love interest for Alice in the shape of the Knave of Hearts to keep momentum going but for Scottish Ballet Ashley Page and Antony McDonald have bravely, but less successfully, opted to put Lewis Carroll himself into the story. Carroll’s well-documented attraction to young girls creates an uncomfortable tension in his duets with Alice and ultimately makes the ballet more about him than Ms Liddle. Fortunately Erik Cavallari played the potentially problematic role of the author with commendable restraint and sensitivity, so much so that the final few moments when the maturing Alice slips away from his life are genuinely moving.
The superb Sophie Martin danced Alice with requisite enquiry and lightness of movement, fully prepared for the moment when she dismisses the advice and orders of those around her and announces her coming of age in a forthright solo of petulant freedom.
She encounters a host of characters from both the Wonderland and Looking Glass books, some of which are bafflingly realised, such as Adam Blyde’s slimy Tango-teaching Caterpillar, while others, like Quenby Hersh’s luxuriously sexy Cheshire Cat and Owen Thorne’s plain scary Jabberwock, are more effective. The costumes are imaginatively designed and the staging uses a simple but effective system of rotating walls to convey the ever-changing world Alice marvels through.
This production comes close to capturing the nonsensically nightmarish nature of the books better than Covent Garden, due in no small part to Robert Moran’s brooding score, best described as dissonant modern baroque, that allows Page’s choreography plenty of scope for visual interpretation and also features a lovely waltz for the Croquet game scene.
So which Alice gets the Jam Tarts and which is off with its head? In summary (for it is almost summer after all) for sheer fun, spectacle and exhilarating theatricality head south to Covent Garden. If you fancy a more thoughtful and provocative take on one of the UK’s best-known children’s tales you’re better off following the white rabbit north of the border.