‘Think you’re all grown up? Then it’s time to leap down the rabbit hole…’
And so we did, enchanted by Oxford University Dramatic Society’s (OUDS) Summer Touring production. Director Josie Mitchell’s imaginative realization of Lewis Carroll’s fantastical world is a triumph.
The setting was matchless: a warm summer’s evening on Christ Church Meadows beneath the shade of a walnut tree. We lolled on cushions, sofas and grass, while magic happened.
A feisty Alice (Phoebe Hames) maintained a convincing child-like naturalism, when confronted with a kaleidoscope of strange anthropomorphic creatures including Richard Hill’s magnificent hookah-smoking caterpillar (displaying three pairs of moving Marigold- gloved hands) and a baffling Mad Hatter (volatile Johnny Purkiss) at his bewildering Tea Party where everyone kept changing places on the Mad Hatter’s frantic cue. The Cheshire Cat grinned and spoke in all the company’s voices, and the White Rabbit (a twitching, nervous Tom Lambert) bounded about, at one point displaying a pair of bare, muddy feet bicycling behind the windbreak, like a synchro swimmer.
The croquet game was brilliantly realized, with Alice clutching a neon pink flamingo mallet, jubilant in victory over the authoritarian punk-haired Queen of Hearts (Vanessa Goulding). The company’s versatility was demonstrated by their gliding transformations into multiple characters – a highlight was Hill’s turbaned Duchess, and Lucie Dawkins’ Dodo.
Mitchell’s eye for detail resulted in several marvelous touches: Dawkins’ judicious use of the megaphone to provide apt sound effects; the company’s instant formation of human gates, guarded by savage heraldic beasts; swimming in a pool of tears, and Alice’s startling changes in size were original and dramatic.
Royal Court Young Writer Matt Parvin’s script interspersed Wonderland with real characters from Alice Liddell’s life. The conflicts which perplexed Charles Dodgson, as an academic, a deacon and a man were sensitively portrayed. Producer James Fennemore’s energy and designer Ellen Bean’s visual flair contributed to the delight of the evening.
As the bells pealed from Tom Tower, Merton and Magdalen and swallows dipped and dived over the baled hay, OUDS have achieved an archetypal summer production, for an audience of all ages. Its appeal embraced students, grandparents, children. A toddler, sitting in their mother’s arms, watched the whole production, rapt
With a touring run including London and Edinburgh to come, it’s hard to imagine a more perfect evening.