BWW Review: ALICE I VIDUNDERLAND at Nationaltheatret - Wonderfully Crazy Fairytale About Identity Crisis and Longing
This new ambitious children's musical based on the Lewis Carroll novel "Alice in Wonderland" was an experience different from what I had expected. It may be that my prior knowledge of the source material from early childhood had something to do with it. The story itself has so many aspects and depths to it depending on the age of the viewer. However this production managed to stir emotions in both adults and children of different ages (I brought my kids!). The elegant nonlinear absurdity of the original story is well intact, but in a more modern setting. The fierce wordplay-ish humor managed to never let the show be boring. The production feels in many ways like Alice in Wonderland version 2.0
We are introduced to Alice who is now 14 and is living in present day. The opening scene is her confirmation-party (A Norwegian tradition for teens coming of age). The party is embarrassingly awkward. Alice cannot stand the presence of her family who, from her perspective, is far from her level of thinking. While her aunt is holding a speach about menstruation, she needs to get away, and starts a journey that is very reminiscent of her experiences eight years ago at her mother's deathbed. The white bunny appears at the party, which becomes a saving grace for Alice, and she has no trouble once again following it on a new adventure.
Alice is played by Kjersti Tveterås, who stood out in the Norwegian TV-series "Nesten Voksen." In spite of being 35 she gives a credible, fine and curious portrayal of Alice. She manages with ease the difficult task of being both insecure and self-assured. Tveterås lets us get to know a girl who has never quite dealt with the loss of her mother. Which in turn has given Alice a harder transition into adolescence than her peers. She is struggling to find her own true identity, and all the wonderful and strange characters she meets on her journey are strongly symbolic for this "trauma". It was probably not coincidental casting Henrik Rafaelsen as Alice's psychologist father in addition to playing the leader of Wonderland's group therapy sessions as The Mad Hatter, especially considering the show being so overwhelmingly full of dreamy symbolism. He also plays the roles of Jack of diamonds, one of the guards of the gate of Wonderland, and did a good and impressive interpretation of all three.
The card guards tries to stop entering Wonderland in an enjoyable four-part harmony, but after giving her an easy task to solve, they let her open the gate to the strange landscape with her bag full of newly gained sense of accomplishment. She meets a cat, who is brilliantly payed by Henriette Marø. She stands out as the show's undefeated champion (according to my kids). She has perfect cat-like behavior, and manages to create both a prima donna huffiness and willfulness of a female cat in an stupendous way.
Then we have The Queen of Hearts, played by Anneke von der Lippe, who, without spoiling too much, seems like a sharp symbol of Alice's vanishing memories, and bitterness towards the loss of her mother. This character is also conflicted with many contrasts. Von der Lippe manages to convey both cynic brutality, yet also a trustworthy authority at the same time. Her story is that she's lost her head, in the same way Alice's memories of her mother has faded gradually.
After a while we get to know a couple of lovely, optimistic mayflies played by Gisken Armand and Hallvard Holmen, who considers a day to be an eternity, and who performs an "elevator music-like" duet about life, before they, to Alice's consternation, suddenly just descend into death. "They were so happy, and then they just died..?" - could this have happened before in Alice's life?
However, the most overt symbolic instrument in this performance goes to the caterpillar, wonderfully played by Anne Guri Tvedt, who doesn't have any good answer to who she really is. "Do you mean who I used to be - or who I'm going to be?" The same way a juvenile youth can worry about reaching adulthood either before or after her friends, the caterpillar is surrounded by friends who have already entered their cocoon before her, and are no longer the same they used to be. Both her character and her EDM-like song draws a picture of difficulties of transitioning adulthood.
The score, by Kyrre Havdal, is tonally very modern. The lyrics, written by director Mads Bones is for the most part easily accessible to both gown ups and children alike.
Bones seems to have worked a lot with the interaction between the actors, and has done a good job making movements and pauses humorous, which is especially important in a performance for children. The script he has written is somehow more dedicated to the parents, with a lot of recognizable references, for example in the "AA" like group therapy session.
The fantastical costumes desservers paise, both in use of colour and embodiment, and Nationaltheatret, this time represented by Christina Lovery, has managed to create their own genre within children's play costumes, that stand out as both innovative, colourful and trendy at the same time, and that are carrying the play on their own. Gjermund Andresen has also created a stage design that matches the greatness of the costumes in a very good way. The use video effects and mirrors helped the story move more fluently. Mechanic scenery changes were done in a very pleasant way, especially in the scene when the party- table disappeared. The lighting, smoke and the use of color defined the different worlds and the contrasts between them well, and gave a dreamlike sense, which made it easier to follow along.
Musically the singing by the actors (as is the norm at this theatre) is more based on expression than melody and technical skills, which is fine in a show like this. The musically biggest highlight came near the end of the show, and was performed by Anne Guri Tvedt in an absolutely stunning butterfly suit.
Reviewing this show I brought my kids along. My daughter is ten while my son is five, both of them are well versed in the musical theatre world. They both found it captivating and paid attention throughout. My son didn't get bored at any point, which is rare for someone at that age. He may not have picked up on the symbolism, but my daughter noticed a lot of it. I believe that older kids, will get a somehow fuller experience from this piece. For the youngest kids, parts of the show might be a bit too brutal, so there is a chance that some children will get nightmares (including head-thirsty chainsaw massacres)
Even though this is show is captivating, it is a bit sad Nationaltheatret has decided to forgo the classics this year, which marks the end of a holiday traditon. I am all for producing something new and exciting, but not at the expense of the cherished old ones. Can't we have both?
All photos by Øyvind Eide
Director: Mads Bones
Composer and Musical director: Kyrre Havdal
Choreographer: Martha Standal
Stage Design: Gjermund Andresen
Costume designer: Christina Lovery
Sound designer: Ingrid Skanke Høsøien
Make-up: Terje Rødsjø and Ida Kristine Høgbakk
Video designer: Torbjørn Ljunggren
Dramaturg: Oda Radoor