Sadly, I have a very bad memory. This means that I don’t remember many of the books that I’d read as a child, plus, having lived in two different countries since then, early books have not survived the move to help jog almost-forgotten experiences. I wish I had kept a list of books read as I do now on goodreads.com. I do remember reading old classics like Black Beauty, all of Roald Dahl’s books, and Beatrix Potter’s Tales. And of course The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden. But my most lasting impression is the great pleasure I’d had in reading Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. In fact, in what you would call 5th grade, I was assigned the role of the Red Queen and wore a long black satin gown (that was really my mum’s mini dress), finding immense pleasure in saying my one and only line: “Off with their head!” There are just so many memorable characters: the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Duchess, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Perhaps it has resonated with me – and others – so much because, as NYT writer Ben Brantley points out, Carroll was a genius “in giving fantastical shape to the thoughts, fears, confusions and uncanny knowingness of children.”
There are so many renditions of this tale from the sweet Disney version to the manic Burton extravaganza with Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter – and there’s even a macabre computer game Alice with fantastic imagery that a friend recently leant to me that I’m dying to play.
The story has such fantastic (in both senses of the word) staging potential that it’s not really a surprise to read in Brantley’s article December 1st that a production has been staged in a hospital in Brooklyn, New York. Called “Then She Fell,” this is an immersive experience where you can interact with Wonderland characters. For example, you after watching the Red Queen’s frenzies through a window to her room, you might then be invited in to share a drink (you have to be over 21 to attend the production).
For two hours, only 15 audience-participants can travel from room to room, exploring this impressionistic representation of Alice’s dark adventure. At first, the audience starts the experience together but, slowly, the group fragments until each person has an intimate encounter with Alice herself.
This all takes place in the former outpatient building of Greenpoint Hospital. The décor of each space is highly significant to revealing character and evoking events from the books. Walking through this Wonderland must be a disorienting and magical experience – and, since programmes are not given till the end of the show, unless one is very familiar with the history of Carroll, certain events will not be so clear; the effect, I assume, must be as disorienting as that of falling after the White Rabbit must have been for Alice herself.
The actors are from the Third Rails Project – which has just celebrated ten years of productions – and incorporates dance and other features to give a “multi-sensory” performance where audiences explore hidden areas, discover clues, and use skeleton keys to find secret items. Greeted and checked over by a doctor and nurse at the beginning of the two-hour experience, the impression is given to the audience that perhaps not just the Mad Hatter or Red Queen belong in this madhouse…. This is definitely a unique opportunity to revisit a childhood favourite with an adult twist.
– Eleni Anastasiou, 10th December 2012