During the course of the pandemic I’ve already been to Wonderland twice: once with Chickenshed for an inventive take on the original narrative and one set in a steampunk Victorian theme park with Creation Theatre. Now a third visit beckoned courtesy of American company Seize The Show/Gamiotics at the Edinburgh Fringe. While it has much in common with Creation’s version, having a deal of interactive choice and encounters with the famous characters to guide you through the experience, it takes things a stage further by challenging you directly with games and puzzles that alter the course of the narrative. While using characters and situations from the two Alice books (and conflating the Queen of Hearts and the Red Queen into one persona) the storyline is a sequel to the originals. Alice (i.e., the audience) has returned to the world under the ground to save it from imminent danger.
It’s a two screen experience; while the main action unfolds on one you are playing games/solving puzzles/making choices on another through the Gamiotics app. One then “talks” to the other affecting the plot line and how and in what order encounters with the Mad Hatter/March Hare, the Caterpillar and both the Red and White Queens play out. So, for instance, the audience faces the choice of either eating or drinking something which (as in the original) will cause either an increase or decrease in size dictating which door is gone through to start proceedings. It’s a novel approach decided by how the majority answer, although as you get to go to all areas it probably doesn’t matter too much about the order. The idea is to collect gears for the White Rabbit’s watch as this is the only thing that can stop the advancing threat which might spell Wonderland’s demise.
There’s no real surprise as to what this threat is, especially if you’ve seen the Tim Burton film. But I found myself engaged with helping to ward off disaster as though it really mattered. First time through we failed to collect enough gears so had to go round again. Thankfully, this was not just a straight repeat of scenes even if it was the same characters. In fact, we went round three times in all but then, I suspect, the experience is structured so that everyone does. There’s some well thought our deliberate deterioration of video quality in the later stages to indicate time rapidly expiring and add a note of urgency. And in that most eternally sunny of landscapes which is Wonderland it even starts to snow; presumably that’s been borrowed from Narnia.
Guides to proceedings are the White Rabbit (Jacob Thompson) and the Cheshire Cat (Kim Morgan Dean) who enjoy an intermittently sparky relationship but are rather relentlessly complimentary to the audience’s puzzle solving abilities. The Caterpillar (Lynn Craig) has some Lewis Carroll like fun with words and of course the Red Queen’s (Carlina Parker) love of playing croquet with hedgehogs and shouting “Off with their heads” remains intact. The White Queen (Pooya Mohseni) is altogether kindlier though if you don’t know the rules of chess you might find her puzzles will stump you. As in most adaptations the best bits are those with the March Hare (Michael Pilato) and the Mad Hatter (Elton John – sorry, Michael Indeglio) who embody the craziness of Carroll’s world; their scene needs some careful attention as it contains a number of clues – says he who regularly missed them.
It’s an enjoyable escapade and perfect for a family audience. Indeed, I wished I’d had some others in the room with me; you can use the Zoom chat function to interact but that’s not quite the same and in any case there’s too much going on to get distracted from the main task. Allowing thirty seconds each time for answers to be entered and collated does slow proceedings down a bit and my internet connection wasn’t entirely happy with having two screens running at once but fortunately things held out. The interactive tasks themselves are simple enough to understand and respond to even for a game playing novice like me and most are pitched at the right sort of level to be accessible to children. Perhaps going through events three times over-eggs the experience a little but it gives you time to admire the uniformly excellent design and video work that has been devised. How far all this sort of thing has advanced in the last couple of years; Lewis Carroll himself couldn’t have made it up.
Today’s bonus Scenes For Survival piece is Larchview in which the government’s chief scientific officer issues a public apology for breaking lockdown restrictions. As he rehearses for the camera we also get to understand the details that were behind his decision. Stunningly good piece by Rob Drummond performed by Mark Bonnar. Any similarity to real events is completely coincidental (!!)
Saving Wonderland has now finished its run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival but will be showing again as part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in September – click here
Scenes For Survival pieces are available from the NTS website – click here; a number are also available on BBC iPlayer – click here
To keep up with the blog and all the latest online theatre reviews please click here and choose a follow option
For my Theatre Online list (suggestions and news of newly released productions) please click here. This list is supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)