I have always loved the utter insanity of Lewis Carroll’s tales of Alice ‘Through The Looking Glass’ and ‘In Wonderland.’
When I was young, I used to play it. I don’t quite remember who I was when I played it (Alice I suppose; do what you want with that) but I used to play it in the summer, on a Thursday. This was the day my sister and I would spend the afternoon with my Grandma and Grandpa. They would take us to the riverbank where I’d pretend to chase the White Rabbit into Wonderland, and then the rest of the game would take place in their beautiful back-garden, which was vast and green and provided a multitude of nooks and crannies to act out the various scenes amongst. All with imaginary characters of course. I’m sure my grandparents thought I was slightly unhinged when they’d look out of the window to see me staring up at their apple tree, having a full-blown conversation with a Cheshire Cat who wasn’t actually there.
It’s widely thought that the eccentric Carroll was off his head when he wrote Wonderland, and manically depressed when he wrote Looking Glass. Lewis wasn’t even his real name. Nor was it Carroll. It was Charles Dodgson, don’t you know. He was a writer, artist and photographer, as well as a logistician, mathematician and deacon! Don’t you just love that? I do. I love how that combination of very adult ‘stuff’ was the recipe for Alice. Her stories are nonsense, and yet they are two of the most beloved and famous children’s tales in history. I think this is where my 7-year-old self finds a connection – Wonderland and the mirrored plains of the looking glass are essentially cooked up by Alice’s slightly disturbing imagination; so it stands to reason that a kid who talks to invisible cats in trees would quite comfortably relate.
Alice, I think, is Carroll. His creative-cum-scientific mind dreamt up those stories, and Alice is almost the soundboard for them. She channels her creator. She’s off her rocker, and I personally think she ended up being a wild-child, running away from her home life of wealthy parents, pretty kittens and neatly pressed dresses. I think that Wonderland corrupted her.
That’s my take on the whole thing. And why am I writing about it, I hear you ask? Because I’ve been ‘playing it’ again recently. Not alone with my Grandma’s apple tree, but on a stage with actors. Alice Through the Looking Glass is my most recent theatrical venture and I have been cast as both the Red Knight and Tweedledum of the Tweedle twins. You know the ones – the snide brothers who are essentially overgrown schoolboys who delight in winding Alice up as she crosses the giant chess board (as you do). The great thing about a part like these two is the fun you can have with them as an actor. The Red Knight is more of a bit part (his White counterpart is really the star of that scene, who recites a poem to Alice about wheat fields full of fish eyeballs). Nevertheless, he’s still insane. The Tweedles are immature, bitchy, and see Alice as an excuse to behave like spoilt brats. Eventually they come to blows over the fact that Dee has broken Dums new toy rattle. But despite ‘their quarrel’ they never contradict one another. It’s widely thought that Carroll intended them to be enantiomorphs — three-dimensional mirror images of each other, which would make sense given that they live through a mirror.
Carroll didn’t create them; in fact, much like Humpty Dumpty, they are products of earlier nursery rhymes. Their origin isn’t certain (some say Alexander Pope dreamt them up) but the first recorded mention of them was in John Byrom’s epigram of 1894/5, which poked fun at the public tiffs of musicians Handel and Bononcini at the time. These two fought over plagiarism and politics. Whilst Byrom’s original verse favored neither of them (calling one a ninny and the other unworthy), Carroll was perhaps indirectly throwing his own hat into the debate by calling them a couple of children. Either way, this imagery has come to symbolize two very different and opposing characters, which isn’t actually what Carroll was even getting at.
I very much appreciate the tales of Alice now from an adult POV, and I enjoy what Tim Burton is trying to do with the stories with his 2010 filmic version of Wonderland (and hopefully with his upcoming sequel adaptation of Looking Glass) Personally though, I don’t think the story has ever been done proper adult justice. Burton comes close, by making Alice 19 and darkening the Wonderland aspect by calling it ‘Underland’; but he still caters for the young audience. I’d like to see a fully adult adaptation – dark, insane, deprived.
In the meantime though, I shall bite my tongue; because our adaptation is for the kids. I’m personally playing Tweedledum extra mad so that the grown-ups will enjoy the insanity as well, but our show is a family production, set outside, with an excellent cast of adults and children alike, some fantastic set pieces (the oysters are of particular note) and a pretty outdoor setting. For further details click here.