Mike Batt's obsession of several years is finally realised in a bewilderingly contradictory spectacle. Its design is furlongs ahead of anything you'll see in a main British theatre: a number of screens are flown in, upon which "sets" are projected and kaleidoscoped, with moments of lysergic colour recalling that other great voyage story, Yellow Submarine. BUT even such audacity pales; the screens dominate so much that often the performers are behind them, cut off from the audience and turning the experience from theatre into a kind of cinema with live actors.
A 50-piece symphony orchestra/rock ensemble onstage gives the orchestrations a pleasing blare. BUT the music (and I never thought I'd say this) lacks Lloyd Webber's facility for emotional cliché. The lyrics are slangy and chucklesome, BUT lightweight and hardly built to last. Add some erratic cutting of Carroll's poem (with references to excised portions remaining intact) and atrocities like Kenny Everett's Billiard Marker declaring, "I'm gonna be snookering you tonight" to the only female in the lead cast, who plays the Beaver, and you have one weird broth. The immensity of the project alone will guarantee audiences, but I predict few revivals in decades to come; Batt has cynically seized a moment and no more.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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