Every summer the London Bubble theatre company tours a family show around parks in the London area, sometimes in their tent, sometimes beneath the sky. This year, Alice... is an open-air promenade production, and I certainly didn’t expect what it would bring. What it brought was partly a gang of young local scrotes yelling nuisance and throwing missiles at us. But the show itself was pretty memorable too.
Lewis Carroll’s second Alice story is well suited to a promenade performance, with the audience walking from place to place for each successive scene. Alice progresses through the strange looking-glass land in a set pattern, meeting odd companions as she goes. The story actually describes a vast living chess game; that can’t be re-created here, but director Jonathan Petherbridge gives us a flavour of it.
Alice moves from glade to glade through the woods, meeting knights, kings and queens, all standing for chess-pieces. Petherbridge even writes in a group of bishops, waving placards to protest that they’re not included in the game! The episodic structure, with a self-contained scene taking place on each “square”, also helps the promenade staging; it means things get tied up more or less neatly before we move on.
After a while, though, this comes to be the show’s principal drawback as well. With no real narrative plot to speak of, and a grand symbolic scheme too complex to be shown in performance, you begin to feel there’s little point to traipsing around like this all evening. Each scene is entertaining in itself, acted with energy by a cast of eleven taking multiple roles, but you pine for something more to hold it all together.
Nevertheless, it’s an agreeable way to spend a summer evening (when dry and gang-free), and it’s truly a show with appeal for everyone, not just children. It makes a welcome change from all those Shakespeare comedies which are the usual outdoor fare at this season. Plus, you’ve got to love a theatre show that explains its chess-game metaphor by promising that, at the end, we’ll all get to be queens. Haven’t you?
Written for Teletext.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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