Given how curiously 2020 is turning out, it’s no surprise that Alice in Wonderland has been a popular choice of productions for theatre companies this summer. Sunday saw us take our second trip to Wonderland in the space of a week, this time via a virtual rabbit hole dreamed up by Creation Theatre and Big Telly Theatre Company. After carving out a reputation as Zoom theatre specialists over the last few months, they have now teamed up with Charisma.ai, ground-breakers in interactive and immersive storytelling technology, to produce their most innovative online show yet. And we were thrilled to be invited to join them in an unbirthday celebration like no other.
Alice, A Virtual Theme Park is not your average online show, even for those of us who have become accustomed to Zoom theatre. It is a genuinely interactive, multimedia experience which sends the audience off on a journey through multiple different Zoom rooms to encounter Lewis Carroll’s classic characters. Even if you are the sort of audience member who turns their camera off and refuses to join in with the audience participation, it’s impossible to remain entirely passive. You are actively in control of your own journey through Wonderland, selecting the different places that you wish to visit, before everyone reconvenes to watch the final scenes together.
This means that different people take different paths and do not all have the exact same experience. We managed to visit the Queen’s of Heart’s Cook (Annabelle Terry) and learn all about the secret recipe for her jam tarts, before heading off for a deadly game of musical statutes with the Queen herself (played to perfection by the hilarious and sharp-witted Vera Chok). We were also entertained by a balancing act from twins Tweedledum (Tom Richardson) and Tweedledee (also Tom Richardson, with a little help from a mirror) and saw the thoughts of the Mad Hatter (Dharmesh Patel) come to life on the stage of his theatre hat.
All of the different rooms were great fun and the Choose Your Own Adventure style screen was a nice touch, even if it did have us rushing about like the White Rabbit as we Zoomed from room to room. (If you’re slow to make your next choice or your internet is a bit lethargic you might miss bits but it doesn’t affect the overall narrative because nobody visits all the rooms anyway.) This use of multiple Zoom rooms was ambitious and did make it feel more immersive but the interaction between the links and the Zoom app was a bit clunky (compared with the breakout rooms that we’ve seen used in a previous Big Telly show). If you’re a completionist, you may also find it unsatisfying not to be able to visit every room, but that’s a good excuse to go back to Wonderland and pick a different path!
Once the audience is brought back together, it’s time to visit some of the best loved scenes from the book, including Alice (Leda Douglas) growing and shrinking, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and the trial for stealing the Queen of Heart’s jam tarts. There’s plenty audience participation here too, which is taken to the next level in a game of hedgehog croquet which involves designing your own hedgehog then sending it off to compete against the rest of the audience in a Sonic the Hedgehog style video game. (Make sure you have enough phones handy for all the small people in your house who might want to play!)
It’s a highly entertaining production which very much pushes the boundaries of digital theatre while incorporating a good amount of the traditional text and a healthy dollop of daftness. Whether you’re looking to hurl yourself around your living room or just watch the madness unfold onscreen (which is perfectly permissible but the Queen of Hearts will definitely judge you for it), there is something for everyone in Alice, A Virtual Theme Park.
Alice, A Virtual Theme Park runs from 1 to 30 August 2020. We received complimentary press tickets for the 4pm performance on Sunday 9 August in return for a review.