After dark: Curiouser and curiouser

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A new club night highlights what the organisers claim is the `druggy' nature of Alice in Wonderland. Not as you read it with mother

Was Alice in Wonderland a junkie? Was the Mad Hatter mad for it? A controversial new club night has taken liberties with a classic children's tale.

"Alice is a very trippy story and Lewis Carroll was a user of drugs. We're just showing the updated version," says John Goldsmith, one of the producers of the rave club night, Planet Alice. You can see what he means, just by looking at one of Sir John Tenniel's original illustrations. A caterpillar sits on top of a mushroom smoking a waterpipe, dolling out dopey, slackerish advice to Alice as if he were a minor character in a Richard Linklater movie.

"The Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and yawned once or twice, and shook itself," reads the text that accompanies the picture. "Then it got down off the mushroom and crawled away into the grass, merely remarking, as it went, `One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow shorter'. `One side of what? The other side of what?' thought Alice to herself? `Of the mushroom,' said the Caterpillar, just as if she had asked it aloud; and in another moment it was out of sight."

Out of sight, indeed, man. If, as some literary critics have argued, Alice in Wonderland is peppered with oblique references to drugs, then Planet Alice makes the connections between 1990s drug-culture and Lewis Carroll's topsy-turvy, perception-challenging world explicit. In this version of the tale, there's no pussyfooting about with what those jam tarts contained. The narrator makes that quite clear. "The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts and dosed them with LSD/The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts and fed his reality."

The club is the lovechild of Debbie Sapsford, the woman behind the hippie- dippie anti-club Megatripolis, and music promoter Harvey Goldsmith, best known for bringing opera to the masses at Earl's Court and the Royal Albert Hall. The key to the event's success has been the way it blends layers of theatre and multimedia art onto the staid club format.

Staff and clubbers alike dress as characters from the book, like the White Rabbit, Fish-Footman and any number of Queens. Stiltwalkers stalk the dancefloor. Trapeze artists dominate the air, silhouetted against huge back projections of teapots and grinning felines (it's not a big leap to make from Smiley logos to Cheshire Cats). Even the chill-out room has been reimagined as a Mad Hatter's tea- party.

What began tiny in Brighton with the help of Cafe Expose, the Curious Company, Matt Black, Mixmaster Morris and Neotropic has, like Alice after drinking the medicine, grown and grown, touching down at the Ministry of Sound back in August. Next Thursday it kicks off a nationwide tour, starting at Reading University.

What the Reverend Charles Ludwig Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) would make of this visual cacophony, it's hard to say. Certainly, it has got up the nose of his current publisher, Kate Wilson from Macmillan Children's Books. "There's nothing in any of Carroll's biographies that would lead you to assume those drug references were intended," she protested when informed of the new club. "It would be sad if Alice becomes in any way associated with something that isn't wholesome. It is actually very much to do with innocence."

Planet Alice, Reading University (0118-986 5125) 23 Oct. Tour info: 01273 704612

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