Alice, Theatre Royal, Glasgow
Monday 18 April 2011
Huge expectations for Alice, creative director Ashley Page's first, and last, full-length new work for Scottish Ballet.
Having remade Cinderella, The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty as clever, witty classical-contemporary eye-candy, what would he do with a new score (by Robert Moran) and the fruit-loops world of Lewis Carroll?
Page, whose 10-year contract is not being renewed for reasons no one has yet fathomed, loves a reference, a visual joke, a sideways angle on a story and, on these, Alice does not disappoint. Using Carroll's enthusiasm for photography as the central motif, the White Rabbit pops up through the lens of a giant box-camera and tempts Sophie Martin, in the traditional blue dress, to come too.
In a suprisingly minimal Wonderland, with simple, graphic, sets and a huge wooden slide-frame holding projected images, the young girl encounters the characters of both Alice books. Individually, many are outstanding. Tiny Tomomi Sato, the dyspeptic, knickerbocker-clad White Rabbit, is full of skittery frustration. The Caterpillar is a louche tango-master, lounging beneath his toadstool, muscled haunches glistening in a ruffled velour all-in-one. Humpty Dumpty is a Leigh Bowery baby in yolk-yellow rompers and fried egg hat.
The problem is that Alice is sweet but drippy, Carroll only appears to move things along, and everyone else is a baddie. I am always up for a deliciously vicious Alexander McQueen of Hearts and a toxic insect danced by a man in a spotty tuxedo-tutu. But when there is no light to their shade, no sweetness and romance for them to menace, no clear narrative to justify their venom, it descends into a freakshow.
Alice would have worked better if Page had made a virtue of its episodic nature instead of trying to knit it all together, and left Lewis Carroll on the other side of the camera.
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