While my latest foray into theatre online might not be the best thing I’ve seen, it certainly qualifies as one of the craziest – and I mean that in a good way. Alice: A Virtual Theme Park serves up a delicious confection of mayhem and involves no less than three production partners headed by Creation Theatre (more than living up to its name) with a show that moves swiftly and is full of surprises. They have certainly captured the spirit, if not the letter, of Lewis Carroll’s topsy-turvy world and as some of the show is choice based it’s very tempting to return and see other aspects.
Getting there ahead of the start time is a good idea as there’s a preshow; you can get a feel for what’s going to happen and have an online chat with the Cheshire Cat. Then it’s off with Alice (Leda Douglas) down the virtual rabbit hole and into a series of option scenes to meet some of the famous characters; this aspect is the most theme park like as you choose which sections to visit and in which order. Of course it’s a stab in the dark as to which bits you see and there’s always that lurking suspicion that the other options might have been better but I had good fun with the Mad Hatter (Dharmesh Patel sporting the weirdest hat ever), the Duchess’s Cook (Annabelle Terry who clearly has psychotic tendencies) and Tweedledum and Tweedledee (both, somehow, played by Tom Richardson with a judicious use of mirrors). Technically the changeovers between scenes are a bit clunky as you have to keep coming back to reality to then go to another section. This interrupts the flow of the make believe – it’s a bit like the houselights suddenly coming on in the theatre for no apparent reason. I hope the playmakers can find a way round that to provide a more seamless experience but it’s a minor gripe against all the many good things.
We are then all brought back together for the famous scene where Alice grows and shrinks in size (impressive use of models and perspective here) before finding ourselves at the most famous tea party in literature with the Hatter, the March Hare (Colm Gormley) and the Dormouse* (Terry again) A nice adaptation of the original by director Zoe Seaton means the famous lines come up freshly minted and some great visual effects mean the section is as interesting to look at as it is to listen to. The next sequence is an online game for which we needed to turn to a mobile phone and draw a multicoloured virtual hedgehog (don’t ask!). These were somehow imported onto the main screen which then showed us racing our creations along a track. I’m afraid never having got into online gaming, my attempts at manoeuvring and avoiding obstacles were pathetically inadequate but I could see the attraction for those who knew what they were doing.
Finally, it was the other big set piece, the trial scene over the matter of the tarts. This was orchestrated by the White Rabbit (Nicky Harley) and overseen by a frighteningly imperious Queen of Hearts (Vera Chok) with audience participation as character witnesses, a clever magic trick with a pack of cards and an even bigger dash of absurdity than before. I’m surprised that Creation have missed a trick in not sending out a simple jam tart recipe to be made ahead of time and consumed during the scene. Just as in any big theme park ride these days, there’s a memorabilia photo they send you at the end – nice touch!
I’m not sure how much this has all cost Creation Theatre/Big Telly Theatre/charisma.ai to produce but they certainly justify the ticket price (especially when split amongst a family) as it has all the trappings of a “real” production. The cast of seven are uniformly excellent – playing live to a remote audience must be a daunting prospect. There are delightful backgrounds throughout and some outrageously inventive costumes from designer Ryan Dawson Laight, a very jolly soundtrack – more Victorian steam fair than modern theme park – and clever illusions by Paul McEneaney. The show will please all age groups and is a perfect summer treat as you can visit a theme park from the comfort (and safety) of your own home. Bookings are limited for each performance so don’t be late for this very important date!
*Note to the production team …Sorry to be the pedant but it’s dormouse (as in “dormire”- Latin for sleep) not doormouse – as in entrances and exits!
Alice: A Virtual Theme Park is available via Creation Theatre website. Click here. You will need a laptop with Zoom downloaded, a mobile phone (or tablet), a pack of cards and a keen sense of the bizarre.
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