Alice was staged at the hallowed Figtree Theatre, UNSW, in 2002 and based on the classic stories Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll. The production was unique in featuring contemporary songs like the Avalanches’ Frontier Psychiatrist and in incorporating Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson himself as a character in the narrative, as he came to terms with the bizarre creatures of his imagination.
SAMPLE FROM ALICE
A girl walks across the stage in front of a white curtain from the left, stopping in the centre which is lit by a harsh spotlight. She turns towards the audience, seeming to address them.
ALICE: Why, you’re a cat!
A voice responds – a rich voice with an authoritative but gentle tone – like a presenter on SBS, with the wry humourous quality generally employed by doing and ad for a quirky French film about homosexual clowns – but I digress.
VOICE: A cheshire Cat.
ALICE: Would you tell me, please, where I ought to go from here?
VOICE: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
ALICE: I don’t much care where –
VOICE: Then it doesn’t really matter which way you go.
ALICE: – so long as I get somewhere.
VOICE: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if you only walk long enough.
Alice looks around desperately.
ALICE: What sort of people live around here?
VOICE: In that direction –
(A huge image of an arrow pointing right fades in behind Alice)
VOICE: – lives a Hatter: and in that direction –
(Another arrow, pointing left this time, fades in behind Alice, so that the audience sees Alice in the middle with an arrow on either side of her)
VOICE: – lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.
ALICE: (distressed) But I don’t want to go among mad people –
VOICE: Oh, you can’t help that. We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.
ALICE: How do you know I’m mad?
VOICE: You must be –
(the arrows fade)
VOICE: – or you wouldn’t have come here.
ALICE – And how do you know you’re mad?
Long pause. Behind Alice, another image starts to fade in. It is an enormous image of a huge cheesy grin, like in a cartoon. The grin image fills the entire back wall, from top to bottom and from side to side. It grows brighter and brighter, until it becomes very bright. Alice turns around to look at it, and cringes in horror. At the same time the spotlight fades, and a deep maniacal laugh plays deafeningly loudly over the speakers. The song “Frontier Psychiatrist” (by The Avalanches) begins and Alice runs off the stage to the right.
The smile fades as the lights find the Mad Hatter (entering stage right) and the March Hare (entering stage left). They are walking towards the centre of the stage, where the dormouse is asleep on the floor.
MAD HATTER: That boy needs therapy.
MAD HATTER: That boy needs therapy.
HARE: Purely psychosomatic.
MAD HATTER: That boy needs therapy.
HARE: Lie down on the couch –
DORMOUSE: (waking up) but what does that mean?
HARE: (pointing angrily at the Dormouse) You’re a nut! You’re crazier than a coconut!
DORMOUSE: What does that mean?
MAD HATTER: That boy needs therapy.
DORMOUSE: (to the Hatter) I’m gonna kill you –
HATTER: That boy needs therapy.
DORMOUSE: (getting up) Ranagazoo, let’s have a tune! Now when I count three –
(the Dormouse is distracted by the entrance of the Queen and King of Hearts from the left)
HATTER: (also distracted, but trying to get the words out) That – that – that – that – that bo – boy needs therapy
QUEEN OF HEARTS: (talking to the King, oblivious to the rest of the scene) He was white as a sheep!
KING OF HEARTS: (agreeing with the Queen) And he also laid false teeth.
The Hatter, Dormouse and Hare huddle together, afraid of the new arrivals. This allows the Duchess, the Caterpillar, the Gryphon, the White Rabbit, and three Gardener Cards to walk on as well, as the music plays. The Queen and King join them, then the original three join the group as well.
KING OF HEARTS: Avalanches above, business continues below.
DUCHESS: (To the Gryphon & Caterpillar) Did I ever tell you the story about –
CATERPILLAR: Mid, Mid Midgets and
CATERPILLAR & GRYPHON: Indians and,
KING OF HEARTS: Fron, Frontier Psychiatrist.
CARD TWO: I… I felt strangely hypnotized
MARCH HARE: I was in another world! A world of –
CARD SEVEN: – Twenty thousand girls…
WHIITE RABBIT: And milk!
GRYPHON: To an optometrist!
CATERPILLAR: The man with the golden, golden eyeball!
DUCHESS: Now tighten your buttocks –
WHITE RABBIT: Pour juice on your chin!
CARD SEVEN: I promised my girlfriend I’d –
CARD TWO: The violin, violin, violin …
After “Violin”, the curtain begins to be drawn upwards. Seeing this, all the characters (except for the Hatter, the Hare and the Dormouse) realize that they must not be seen, so they run off as the music fades. The curtain is completely raised, revealing…
The Tea Party. The Hatter and the March Hare sit down at one end of a very long table. It has all been too much for the Dormouse, who sits in the centre, facing the audience, and falls promptly asleep with his head resting on the table. On the right hand side a desk-lamp turns on, revealing a crazed Lewis Carroll, writing frantically at a desk in a humungous book which is open at a page about a third of the way through it. He writes something, turns the page, writes again, and then the desk-lamp turns off.
A few moments later, Alice enters from the left, and sits down at the other end of the tea party table.
HATTER: (solemnly, to Alice) Have you guessed the Riddle yet?
ALICE: (in resignation) No, I give it up. What’s the Answer?
HATTER: (annoyed) I haven’t the slightest idea.
HARE: Nor I.
ALICE: (sighing wearily) I think you might do something better with the time –
(the dormouse snores loudly)
ALICE: – than waste it asking riddles with no answers.
HATTER: (perturbed) If you knew Time as well as I do, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it. It’s him.
(He takes out his pocket watch).
ALICE: I don’t know what you mean.
HATTER: (absently, fiddling with the pocket watch) Of course you don’t. I daresay you never even spoke to Time. What day of the month is it?
ALICE: (counting on her fingers) The Fourth.
HATTER: (looks at the watch) Two days wrong! (to the Hare) I told you butter wouldn’t suit the works!
HARE: (apologetically) It was the best butter.
HATTER: Yes, but some crumbs must have got in as well. You shouldn’t have put it in with the breadknife.
ALICE: If you ask me, I don’t think –
HATTER: (flustered) Then you shouldn’t talk.
Alice gets up, disgusted, and goes to leave. The others take no notice. They are too busy rearranging the settings on the table. As she walks away, however, the White Rabbit comes running on from the opposite direction and bumps right into her, knocking her over.
RABBIT: (picking herself up) Oh Dear! Oh Dear! I shall be too late!
The Rabbit runs off stage. Alice stares at her, shaking her head in puzzlement. The Hatter and the Hare watch the Rabbit, then glance at each other in alarm.
HATTER: (Motioning Alice to come back to the table, he whispers loudly:) Time won’t do a thing I ask since we quarrelled last March, just before he went mad (points at the Hare). It’s always six o’clock now.
ALICE: Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?
HATTER: (as if this is the thing – this is the sign that means things are getting really bad) Yes, that’s it. It’s always teatime, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.
ALICE: So you keep moving round, I suppose?
HATTER: Exactly so, as the things get used up.
ALICE: But what happens when you come to the beginning again?
The Hatter gives a look like a an animal caught in headlights.
HATTER: (looking for a rescue from the Hare) Suppose we change the subject.
HARE: (lamely) Take some more tea.
HATTER: (muttering) It began with the tea.
ALICE: What did?
HATTER: (angrily) What did? What did! Do you even know why you’re here? (To the Hare) I don’t know why we’re even bothering.
HARE: (in confirmation) We’d best speak with the Cat.
ALICE: You’ve met the cat, then.
This would appear to be the final straw. Alice doesn’t know why she’s upset them, but they get up and leave, taking the table and tea things with them. The Dormouse is lifted on top of it and keeps snoring as the table is taken out. Alice looks around and wrings her hands. The lights fade.
In the darkness, we hear the Voice:
VOICE: ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe…
Thunder and lightning. Maniacal laughter. Other scary shit. Strange shapes appear in each flash of lightning – glimpses of familiar characters in unfamiliar guises. They seem to change with each burst of light. Alice turns toward the audience.
ALICE: (looks around nervously) Mr. Cat?
VOICE: All mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe…
VOICE: Why is a raven like a writing-desk?
The shapes move closer in behind Alice.
ALICE: I don’t understand.
VOICE: Jam tomorrow, Jam yesterday, but never Jam today…Who are you, Alice?
The figures begin to circle around Alice. They can now be made out to be animal-like for the most part, with a couple of characters from other parts of the Alice books thrown in for bad measure. The lighting of the scene enhances the darker side of their costumes.
Sounds of shrieking and insane laughter erupt from various parts of the theatre. The lightning becomes more intense and frequent, and the evil creatures increase their pace, circling faster and faster around Alice. The volume and tension continues to build, reaching a terrible crescendo, when Alice screams out above the noise:
Suddenly everything changes. The lights return to full, and the menacing creatures quickly assume the positions of Caucus-racers from the beginning of the first book, trying in vain to pretend that this had been their game all along, rather than, as it would otherwise appear, scaring, creeping up on and generally tormenting our heroine. That they trip over and run into each other as they try to run only adds to the weakness of their disguise. As Alice distances herself from the race on one side, the Dodo steps out on the other and shouts:
DODO: The, er, Race is over!
One racer stops suddenly, causing a pile-up in which all the racers fall to the ground.
ALICE: (looking at the fallen creatures as they pick themselves back up and dust themselves off) The Race? But who has won?
DODO: (looking sharply at Alice) Everybody has won, and all must have prizes!
HARE: But who is to give the prizes?
DODO: (pointing to Alice) Why she, of course!
DUCHESS: She? Why she?
DODO: I can’t abide questions without answers.
ALICE: Sir, what prizes am I to give?
DODO: (suddenly suspicious) Turn around. Be quiet.
ALICE: (turning around) But sir –
He frisks Alice – you can’t be fooled by her harmless appearance, you know.
DODO: Don’t argue. (lifting her led to inspect hershoe )There’s madness afoot.
ALICE: I –
DODO: There is danger here.
ALICE: What danger?
DODO: Who brought you here?
ALICE: I don’t know.
DODO: (muttering, pacing) Underneathness. Umbra. Undecided. Not good.
GRYPHON: Perhaps she isn’t here.
DODO: (relieved) Quite right. Good lad! (pats the racer on the back) We may have dreamed her up. I propose a test.
Round of applause from the racers.
DODO: (humbly) Thank you, thank you. (to Alice) Well, then, little thing. Do you realize what you’ve stepped into?
ALICE: Not rightly, sir, but if –
DODO: (abruptly) None of that thank you, or we shall never get anywhere. Now attend. Four nights ago, I think it was – or maybe fourteen; yes, that’s it, fourteen nights from today – we were all sailing along merrily. Then something upset the waters. We don’t know when, we don’t know how. But things have not been the same ever since. Now we have heard rumour that there is a Riddle – a Conundrum, one might say (he pauses) – or one might not, but two may –
ALICE: (pulls out a folded piece of paper with the Grin of the Cheshire Cat printed on its back) Yes, sir, I have it.
At this, all of the creatures on stage give a gasp. They shrink away momentarily, but slowly gather closer toward Alice, trying to read over her shoulder. The Dodo snatches it out of her hand.
ALICE: (apologetically) I’ve been considering it for some time now, but I can’t seem to make a guess at it, sir.
DODO: Yes, well these things generally call for a bit of intelligence. Stand back everybody.
The creatures move to give the Dodo thinking room. He reads:
DODO: “Twinkle, twinkle, little bat” –
ALICE: That’s not –
DODO: “How I wonder where you’re at.” (mutters, paces again) Hmm. Most interesting.
ALICE: That’s not it at all!
DODO: (more muttering & pacing) Unfathomable. Unsubstantiated. Indeterminable.
A racer snatches the paper out of the Dodo’s hand.
HARE: ‘ere, lemme see! (reads the paper) She’s right, yer know – it says “Soup of the Evening, Bootiful Soup!”
Another racer takes the paper.
DUCHESS: No, you’re both wrong. I read, “You are old, Father William, the young man said, and your hair has become very white”
ALICE: (shaking her head) Oh, no, no ,no!
A third racer takes the paper and has a stab at it.
GRYPHON: “The sun was shining on the sea, shining with all its might; it did its very best to make the billows smooth and bright -” (he shrugs and gives it back to Alice)
ALICE: (looking at the paper) It can’t be – but – but how am I to solve a Riddle that doesn’t stay put?
DODO: (bends down to meet her face to face and says seriously:) I always find that the best way to understand a thing that changes is to change with it. (looks around, sniffs the air) And with that in mind –
The Dodo leads the charge, and the racers all follow him off stage.
ALICE: But what do you mean? Come back! Sir –
But there is no reply. Something is on the move. Something is returning. Something is becoming real. Keeping time. Trying not to be noticed. Serving a purpose. Eyeing off. Resigning.
If you would like to read more or are interested in staging Alice, contact John Galea.