Bury St Edmunds: Recreating Wonderland and fantastic creatures

A scene from Alice which has taken place at the Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds.

A scene from Alice which has taken place at the Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds. - Credit: Richard Davenport

“Alice”, Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

How do you turn a handful of Edwardian bric-à-brac into an hour’s magic? By putting it in a cellar in which Alice Hargreaves is sheltering from a German bombing raid in 1915.

Brought to the Theatre Royal by Metta Theatre, on Monday and Tuesday this week, “Alice” shows the 63-year-old Alice Hargreaves, Lewis Carroll’s original “Alice in Wonderland”, in her cellar on May 9, 1915 (the date is significant) as the bric-à-brac comes to life and connects her childhood with her son who is fighting on the Western Front.

As Poppy Burton-Morgan, adaptor and director, explains in her programme note, she is trying to weave together the magic of the hot, dozy afternoon which gave rise to the fantasy world into which Alice slipped 53 years earlier, and the pain that womenfolk at home went through as they waited for news from the Front.

Mandy Travis, as Alice, and Jack Parker, as Captain Alan Hargreaves, never speak directly to each other, only through the puppets which they assemble brilliantly from everyday objects stored in the cellar.

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Together they recreate Wonderland and its fantastical creatures – the white rabbit, the caterpillar, the mad hatter’s tea party, and many others.

Making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear is meat and drink to Metta Theatre, but never can anyone have created so convincing a Cheshire cat out of an old silk purse.

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The voice the actors give to each creature is not quite ventriloquism, but we, the audience, were entirely convinced.

Finally, while Alice sits stage front, her son suffers in mortal agony in the background.

He folds a letter between his fingers and carries it, fluttering like a butterfly’s wings, across to her shoulder where it settles. And then she reads it.

She does not crumble, merely speaks of those who are now “on another shore and in a greater light” – the poignant words first heard on Christmas Eve, 1919, in the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge, and repeated every year since.

An epitaph for the Great War.

Chris Todhunter

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