Theatre

Exploring the Wonderland of life

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The dizzying madness in the timeless classic Alice... received a new spin in Chennai through a play staged at the Women’s Christian College (WCC) last week. Alice owns a mobile phone, the White Rabbit scurries around on a kick scooter, there’s a border control desk at the entrance to Wonderland and Alice often wonders if she’s caught up in a video game.

But all’s not well and charming. Alice’s older sister has died in a road accident and the play opens with the funeral. As her parents go through the motions of receiving sympathies from friends and kin, Alice withdraws to a corner and goes into a shell. Everyone at the funeral seems to go crazy, a foreshadowing of Wonderland.

The play’s director, Amrita Fredrick, says she placed the classic in a “modern-day context, dealing with real emotions and crises that many families have to face. The theme appealed to her because she wanted the student actors to explore complex emotions.

The actors spent three weeks in a workshop that honed their skills in various aspects of theatre – movement, emotions, improvisation and singing – before the final casting was done.

The workshop certainly paid off. When Alice is transported from the funeral to Wonderland, the stage erupts in song, dance and colour.

Alice finds herself at the Wonderland border control desk, where a caterpillar asks her crazy questions, like if she has anything to declare and then proceeds to eat up her mobile phone.

Alice then encounters some of the characters from the original classic: the Duchess, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, Humpty Dumpty, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the Postman, the Knave and the Queen of Hearts. She is given a vague clue, “something about a heart”, if she wants to solve a riddle and get back home. We finally learn that the quest is to find the courage in her own heart to go back and face the world.

Amrita, a WCC alumna herself and artistic director of The Kuku Company, says she based the play on an adaption of Alice... that she had watched in the U.K. She used double casting as a clever plot device to show the clash of worlds in Alice’s head. Alice’s mother is also the Queen of Hearts; her father the King; her fussy aunt at the funeral is the Duchess and a creepy cousin turns out to be the Cheshire Cat. Alice is left with the wise words of the White Rabbit, who tells her that “things that don’t make sense are as much a part of life”.

With a cast of about 50 students and a supporting team of over 200 staff and students, the play is entirely a home production of WCC. Advaita Manikkath, the student who played Alice, says, “The college play is an event that has something for everyone – music, acting and dance.” Sarah Jane Devamani, who plays the flirtatious Cheshire Cat, and Anna Jacob, who plays the round-eyed Tweedle Dee, deserve a special mention for superb acting.

The play will also be staged at the Christian Medical College in Vellore on October 7.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 1:09:38 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/theatre/exploring-the-wonderland-of-life/article7637853.ece

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