Cranleigh’s Speech Hall has been splendidly transformed into a world of fantasy and dreams for this week’s ground-breaking immersive-theatre production of “Alice”. The audience wander through a series of magical locations, meeting some of Lewis Carrol’s larger-than-life creations in the characters’ own wonderland. The performance offers a striking and original experience, pushing the boundaries of Cranleigh theatre in a really exciting way. Emily Sinclair, Nikki Plowman, Mark Jenkins and a large and very talented cast have put together a remarkable and energetic show which without doubt will be hugely enjoyed by those who see it this week.
The audience (who should properly be called “participants” rather than spectators in immersive theatre – for good reasons!) circulate through Wonderland, guided by four different Alices – played with an appropriate mixture of bewilderment and spirit by Molly La Fosse, Honor Meadows, Amy Slade and Ellie Williamson. The “spectator-participants” find themselves sitting in a ball-pond under the direction of a duck, eagle, parrot, mouse and dodo (Dave O’Connell, Caroline Zoet, Amelia Holden, Ally Frost and Ellie Cox), playing croquet under the direction of the White Rabbit (Adam Forrester) and his team, and cooking tarts and soup in the Queen’s kitchen with the cavalier Cook (Cameron Scheijde) and his hysterical assistant (Tess Lenselink). They also eat tea repeatedly in company with the Mad Hatter, the Door-Mouse and the March-Hare (Jake Harvey, Libby Richards and Bee Hardcastle) and painting the white roses red under the direction of some less than experts guides (Hector Berry and Gen Graham-Rack). The “participants” are kept pretty busy. Some even find themselves on trial for stealing tarts before the appropriately scary Queen of Hearts (Maddie Lock) whilst the Knave of Hearts (Seb Leman) gets off scot-free.
The fastmoving show is characterised by a great variety of mood and tone, and some really memorable vignettes: Will Chambers provides an appropriately tactile and self-congratulatory Cheshire Cat, Jemima Stephenson and Laura Pollard a highly energetic and engaging double-act as Tweedledum and Tweedledee; and Harry Moore’s tear-jerking Mock-turtle, in conversation with Max de Young’s Gryphon, added more than a note of pathos to the “participants’” journey. Outstanding especially was Ali Johnston’s de Quinceyesque Caterpillar.
It is a pity not to be able to mention by name all the contributors to what is an exciting and different piece of theatre. It represents a remarkable achievement technically too from Mark Jenkins and his large technical crew: lighting, projection and design are used in an imaginative and sophisticated way and it is genuinely true to say – as several of the “participants” have already done so – that they really could not believe they were in the Speech Hall.
Of course they weren’t: they were really in a dream in Wonderland – and a truly memorable dream-visit it is at that.