This page is part of an older version of the Guild web site and links
may not be current. Please click here to visit the new site.

Coming nextů
the next show next audition
home news current reviews previous productions theatre links
OTG's most recent production is Alice's Adventures Underground directed by Alice Evans and Sam Knipe and performed at the OFS Studio Theatre. Reviews of the show appeared in the Oxford Times, followed by no less than three from a 'split jury' at Daily Information, and others in What's On Stage and Oxford Theatre Review.
picture from the performance The cat's whiskers, or just getting the critics' dander up?
A gallery of pictures from the production is available to view.

OXFORD TIMES - Angie Johnson

Oxford Theatre Guild have created a wonderfully different show at the OFS Studio. Alice’s Adventures Underground takes the Lewis Carroll tale and uses it as a springboard for a very imaginative piece of devised theatre.

In this production Alice is an angsty teenager who finds that life’s stresses are crowding in on her so fiercely that she retreats to an imaginative other-world populated by characters including the White Rabbit and Mock Turtle Some of her adventures recall those of the original story but in a subtly different way. There is no Disneyfication in this show; instead it echoes the dark elements of the original tale. As an extra twist, Alice’s world is populated by a group of 1930s circus performers. Colourful and enigmatic, they present her with a way to tell her story and resolve her problems.

The company’s use of physical movement works perfectly; it makes it a very fluid and exciting production – and a very visual one. The costumes are stunning, and the set (Tom Couling) is very adaptable to the fast-moving action. Alice Evans and Sam Knipe have directed the excellent cast to create something very unusual and engrossing. There are 14 on stage – too numerous to mention them all here – but I wish I could as they all bring special moments to the show and are a strong ensemble. I must give a special mention, though, to Harry Forward’s Mad Hatter and Angus Montgomery’s March Hare – both particularly engaging. I think the show is more suited to teenagers and adults than tinies. It is striking and thought-provoking rather than pretty and jokey. That is its strength and what makes this Alice so well worth seeing.

Alice’s Adventures Underground continues at the OFS Studio until Saturday. Contact the box office on 0844 844 0662 or online at www.OFSStudio.org.uk

BACK TO TOP OF REVIEWS

DAILY INFORMATION - Imogen MacKenzie

Alice's Adventures Underground was a breathtaking spectacle - a show that takes Caroll's original illogical and often unconnected narrative and leaps with it into the modern, adding layers of meaning and charcterisation on which the audience can feast. I will certainly be going back for more.

Pedants who expect a true rendering of the classic story will indeed be disappointed, but the darker dystopian take, marvellously envisaged by co-directors Alice Evans and Samantha Knipe, will send you home full of adrenaline and with your head spinning.

The extremely physical nature of the production had my heart in my mouth as the beautiful Alice, played by Olivia Jewson, was trustingly lifted and dropped like a rag doll into the ever present circus troupe of her mind. Delightful performances were also put forward by the Mad Hatter and March Hare, played by Harry Forward and Angus Montgomery respectively, whose physical and verbal interactions were deep and utterly convincing. The exquisitely rendered Red Queen (Sara Clements) appealed to the audience, and brought laughs a-plenty. The rest of the 14-strong cast all put forth fabulous and captivating performances and their deep character bonds were open to examination and were not found wanting.

It is not a simple job to bring a story like Alice in Wonderland to the stage, and certainly a small and unique stage such as the OFS. Certainly, a devised piece based on such a classic and well known story is a brave leap, and one which cannot be taken lightly. However, the directors, cast and crew of this show have clearly not taken it lightly, springing with every last 1930s circus performer's breath into picturing the inner workings of an angsty teenager's mind.

Perhaps this show is not for a younger audience, but then - of what appeal would Caroll's original disconnected narrative be either? Truly, this was a phenomenal reworking, and I would personally like to see more of such thought-provoking theatre gracing Oxford's boards.

DAILY INFORMATION - "Rocky"

I left the OFS studio last night after the opening night of Alice’s Adventures Underground feeling that I was emerging from a little wonderland of my own! This unique devised piece by Oxford Theatre Guild is engaging and entertaining, as it toys mischievously with the deeper themes of Lewis Carroll’s tale.

Here Alice is depicted as a teenager overwhelmed by the pressures of her overprotected life, and her journey underground and the characters she encounters parallel the journey she must make to the depths of her consciousness and the demons that await her there. I got the impression that her anxiety and sorrow was as a result of more than just typical teenage angst, and I was still reflecting on this as I left the theatre – maybe that was the intention.

The piece is refreshingly succinct and unfussy, especially considering the depth of core material, and its dynamism is infectious – you’re dragged into the enjoyable chaos as the characters, here depicted as a circus troupe, pop up in every crevice of the small theatre. Yet, the quirky interaction of the characters and the play’s more emotive, reflective moments provide welcome respite.

The acting and characterisations are excellent throughout, backed up by a set, costumes and make-up that suit the arena and subject matter perfectly. I really would recommend this production. If you arrive with an open mind and a healthy sense of adventure, then you will be bewitched by this wonderfully avant-garde take on an old favourite.

DAILY INFORMATION - Andrew Bell

Given the intimate association of Oxford with Alice, Tuesday night’s decent-sized OFS audience must have come in most cases not to meet but to renew acquaintance with Lewis Carroll’s larger than life characters who move in their anarchic world that’s paradoxically underpinned by a logic of their own making.

The commendably informative programme offers the intriguing vision of a structure being imposed upon the disorder, in that Carroll’s pre-adolescent Alice is here an adolescent who does battle with her teenage angst and teeming imagination; and these are personified by the characters she meets on her underground trip. I assume the preference by joint directors Alice Evans and Samantha Knipe for Carroll’s original title of Adventures Underground rather than the later in Wonderland makes reference to their intention.

Things get off to an attractive start with the 14-strong company performing if not a lobster quadrille then something like it as the audience takes its seats, and then there’s a burst of frantic action and blaze of light as the gaily-costumed components of Alice’s troubled psyche come forward and identify themselves – neurosis, depression and so on. The pace is furious, the sound level high and the cramped OFS space peopled by hurrying bodies – the constant movement, exits and entrances creates a helter-skelter effect.

And this rush and noise continues more or less at the same pitch for the remainder of the short 1 hour 15 mins show (there’s no interval). By the hour mark I was longing for an interval or just for a pause so that Alice might engage one-to-one with the larger-than-life beings whom she meets and who have entered our language and consciousness. Instead, an intermittent and to my mind redundant narrative is handed from actor to actor as Alice and the rest mill about on stage and on the upper levels to side and rear, often declaiming at the top of their voices to no good effect.

The psychological take on the story soon loses its force as it’s hard to distinguish between the various characters by costume or voice. I’m happy to blame myself for not identifying the March Hare until almost the end, but the other characters are mostly dull or anonymous, quirky but to no particular purpose. The Mad Hatter's tea party flits by practically unnoticed. The Queen of Hearts has energy and, appropriately, the voice of a town crier, but she’s soon shot her bolt ad dwindles away as her performance is all on one level.

Alice looks fine with her long tresses and band, the pre-teen’s pinafore dress turned here into rebellious leggings and smock-top, but her dialogue amounts to little more than a spot of rhetoric, and the overriding impression is of blandness. I found myself desperately hoping (in vain) for a guest appearance by Tweedledum and Tweedledee; and where on earth was Humpty Dumpty, the greatest of all Carroll’s creations, that master of crazy logic and blown-up bladder of egotism?

Tuesday’s performance took place pretty much in a laughter-free zone, I’m afraid, and there was a feeling that the frantic jollity on stage was passing a largely unmoved audience by. One final thought – this is no Christmas show; it’s not likely to appeal to many children since simple verbal and visual humour are thin on the ground, and judging by the audience opinion I canvassed after the show, it is likely to struggle to make a positive impact on adults as well.

BACK TO TOP OF REVIEWS

WHAT'S ON STAGE - Simon Tavener

The story of Alice and her travels through the rabbit hole into Wonderland has entranced readers and audiences for over 140 years. Given the Oxford connection, there have been a number of theatrical presentations of the adventures in recent times. This year, Oxford Theatre Guild bring their own twist by presenting a devised production featuring a cast of 14 under the direction of Sam Knipe and Alice Evans.

Anyone who goes along to the OFS Studio Theatre expecting a traditional version will be somewhat disappointed. The creative process has taken the original novel and used it as a stepping-off point for a much more radical and challenging re-imagining.

This Alice is more modern – a teenager seeking meaning to her life and to escape from the pressures of the world around her. Not quite the innocent ten year old in a pretty blue dress that you might expect. The inhabitants of Wonderland are transformed into members of a circus troop (who sport some excellently designed and constructed costumes – courtesy of Tom Couling and Rosie Dennington.)

Gone are the cute anthropomorphic characters and we are presented with a much more dystopian picture and one that, if you did not have a reasonable working knowledge of the original novel, could be somewhat confusing. I would certainly not recommend that you take young children along.

The most successful parts of the evening for me were when the cast stuck more closely to the original text – particularly in the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. In these sections the fusion between their vision and that of the original are most closely aligned. Other parts of the narrative do not come over quite so clearly to the audience. The cast show enormous dedication and passion for what they are doing – there is a clear bond between them all – essential for the physical nature of what they bring to the stage.

Devised theatre is never going to be to everyone’s tastes. It is a brave company that undertakes such work. Oxford Theatre Guild have certainly taken this leap with great energy and commitment. It is up to the audiences to judge how far they have succeeded.

BACK TO TOP OF REVIEWS

Oxford Theatre Review - Robert Holton

What do you get when you cross a manic 1930s circus troupe with the fractured psyche of a young girl struggling to cope with growing up? Well, amongst other things, you get hyperactive tea parties, a smoking caterpillar with umbrellas for legs, and three delightfully grinning Cheshire cats. There were indeed many interesting aspects to this ambitious production and when they came together the audience could truly immerse themselves in Alice’s reworked Wonderland. However, more often than not, the plot got a little too chaotic and we, like Alice, were left lost and bewildered.

Instead of having Alice fall down a rabbit hole the directors rather cleverly decided to have her fall inside her own mind. Thus, once inside, Alice can confront her confused self, embodied by a vast array of characters vying for attention. These included a hyperactive but overly sensitive White Rabbit, a tyrannical but highly comedic Red Queen, and an appropriately scatty Mad Hatter. As a premise, this was a brilliant idea, but sadly its impact was lessened by having the cast dress up as if they were in a circus. This seemed like a needless embellishment that rendered the famous characters of the novel less familiar and all too similar in appearance. Thus, there seemed to be a dichotomy of ideas inherent throughout the production. For example, the use of torn umbrellas for the caterpillar’s legs was particularly effective and ingenious but why he also had to be a ringmaster was less clear.

Nevertheless, despite these creative problems the cast did a brilliant job at inhabiting the stage space and bringing to life the energetic wirrings and girrings of Alice’s mind. All the areas of the theatre were used well, including the various balconies and the auditorium, ensuring that the audience felt that they too were a part of Wonderland. Particular mention should go to Harry Forward who ensured the Mad Hatter was as potty as is required and to the three actors (Daniella Ashdown, Ella Graham, Katherine Leithead) who all simultaneously played the Cheshire Cat with charm and cunning. Having each of them hold up a big cardboard smile was also a nice touch, ensuring the smile could remain whilst the cat vanished. Unfortunately though there were many line slips and interruptions which at times spoilt some of the wordplay that was so integral to the Lewis Carroll novel, although perhaps this was down to first night nerves and will be improved upon as the run continues.

I think the main problem for this production was that, much like in Alice’s head, there really was too much going on. We really could have had a genuinely interesting take on a young girl trying to establish her more grown up identity but, instead, we were left not really understanding how she had managed to grow up in and amongst her fantastical adventures. A theme that also could have been developed was that of escape, as Alice escapes the stress and strife of her everyday life to retreat into a childish fantasy land. However, this was only really addressed at the very beginning and end of the production. This play does not quite live up to the ringmaster’s promise of “the greatest show on earth” but it does prove entertaining and interesting to see many different ideas visualised and physicalised on stage.

BACK TO TOP OF REVIEWS

guild history
guild history
auditions
guild history
guild history guild history
guild history
web archive link
 
© 2012 Oxford Theatre Guild • Oxford Theatre Guild is a charity registered in England and Wales, charity no 294056