Simultaneously enchanting and unsettling, Out of Wonderland by Jessica Millott* is an outstanding piece of student-written theatre. Based on the facts and rumours surrounding the life of Charles Dodgson, better known by his pseudonym Lewis Carroll, the play tracks key events over the course of two years. During this time, Dodgson writes what is later published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, whilst juggling his personal and working relationships. The clever addition of two Cheshire Cats amongst the other biographical characters also gives the audience insight into Carroll’s mental state, voicing his deepest feelings and most private thoughts as he slowly progresses into alleged madness.
One of the triumphs of the production was the set, designed by Tom Selves, which created the perfect setting for a realistic look into the life of Carroll. Performed in Studio A of the New Theatre, a considerably smaller space than their main auditorium, there was little room between the audience and the actors, and entering the theatre to see Carroll (Ollie Shortt) reading in his office chair created the feeling that we as an audience were stepping into Carroll’s world and observing it up close. An open window cut into the walls of the set, and two hidden trapdoors in other pieces of furniture added another element of magic and surprise, as they allowed the two aforementioned Cheshire cats (Maggie Dorling and Michaela Green) to suddenly ‘appear’ as if they had just teleported across the stage.
“No details were spared, and this attitude continued with the costuming”
No details were spared, and this attitude continued with the costuming, which was period-appropriate and added to the transportation of the audience to Carroll’s office in the 1800s. Standing out from the majority of the cast were the Cheshire Cats, dressed in black leotards with purple stripes, allowing for their cat-like movements, with striking feline makeup and hair buns to represent ears.
Although lighting and music were used sparingly, they were also crucial elements in bringing together the atmosphere in each scene. The sudden change to green lighting in the middle of the play as Carroll succumbed to taunting of the Cats’ voices, where we realise the true extent of his breakdown, allowed that scene to stand out from the rest as it was much more surreal and indeed something that seemed straight out of Wonderland. During arguably the most fascinating scene in the play, the audience were jolted out of their state of enchantment as the Cheshire Cats began to circle and torment Carroll as he sat in his chair, with the other characters looming in the background. It was at this point we became truly concerned for Carroll, as well as beginning to become more uncomfortable in regards to his questionable relationship with Alice (Daniella Finch), which continues until the final, poignant scene.
“Every actor had clearly gotten to grips with their respective characters and performed outstandingly for their captivated audience”
Every cast member should be applauded for their contributions; the characterisation by each actor was perfection, and never wavered. From the manic eye of Mrs Liddell (Molly Fenton) and the unsettlingly dulcet and purring tones of the Cheshire Cats to Alice’s excitable tiptoeing, every actor had clearly gotten to grips with their respective characters and performed outstandingly for their captivated audience.
All in all, Out of Wonderland is a spectacular production no matter your interest in Lewis Carroll, and a joy to watch. The cast and crew should be highly commended for the evident hard work they have put into this production, and deserve only high praise.
‘Out of Wonderland’ is running at Nottingham New Theatre until Tuesday 10th May. For more information see here
*Disclaimer: Jessica Millott is one of Impact Arts’ section editors, and every action has been taken to ensure this review has not been influenced by this fact