"One of the most magical retelling you will see of Lewis Carroll's surreal classic."
Winner: Best Comedy - Buxton Festival Fringe
Welcome to Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland. Join top mimic, actor and comedian Steve Nallon as he invites you to follow Alice 'down the rabbit hole' into his own contemporary Wonderland fantasy.
Steve Nallon's one-man show is a comic re-invention of Lewis Carroll's classic tale of Alice and the oddball characters she meets in her Wonderland. The actor and impressionist brings a unique modern twist to Alice's surreal adventures with his remarkable 'cast' of voices, including Robin Williams as the frantic White Rabbit, Tony Blair as the grinning Cheshire Cat, Homer Simpson as the philosophical Caterpillar, Ann Widdecombe as the moralizing Duchess, David Beckham as the sleepy Dormouse - and many, many more. The show takes all the zany quirkiness of Lewis Carroll - the humorous plays on words, the backward thinking, the celebration of misrule, the strange logic of nonsense - and re-presents the tale as a modern fable reflecting today's mad world of culture, politics, celebrity and sport.
The talented mimic, actor and comedian Steve Nallon has re-invented Lewis Carroll's classic story as a modern Wonderland fantasy. Each unforgettable Wonderland character is recreated by Steve's iconic 'cast' of celebrity impressions in one of the biggest stellar line-ups imaginable.
There is the irrepressible Robin Williams as the frantic White Rabbit, the tyrannical Anne Robinson as the brutal Queen of Hearts, the need-to-please Tony Blair as the inanely grinning Cheshire Cat, the philosophical Homer Simpson as the ponderous Caterpillar, the eloquent Alan Bennett as the professorial Mock Turtle, the hen-pecked Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) as the put upon Red King, the dominating Sybil Fawlty (Prunella Scales) as the no-nonsense wife the Red Queen, the neurotic Woody Allen as the psychobabbling Mad Hatter, the child-like David Beckham as the dozey Dormouse, the bossy Ann Widdecombe as the moralising Duchess - and many, many more - all making Steve Nallon's retelling of this classic fantasy tale a truly contemporary, imaginative, comic and stimulating theatrical event.
Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland is a re-invention of Carroll's Wonderland so there is plenty of scope for contemporary social, political and cultural satire.
The show has the inane Tony Blair as the grinning Cheshire Cat not quite knowing the direction to take, left or right, thus offering Alice "a Third Way" which will take her "absolutely nowhere".
Because we live in a media world obsessed by celebrity the Mad Hatter (Graham Norton) hosts a 'Big Celebrity Tea Party' served with fried steak and fried chicken. Alice, of course, is not famous enough to sit near Graham as the Mad Hatter ("No room! No room!") - and worse - she wants bread not fried steak or chicken. Alice is told in no uncertain terms that "Carbohydrates and celebs don't mix - for we are on the Atkins diet!"
Modern education is also a target. The professorial Mock Turtle (Alan Bennett) teaches the 'Easy Learning Shakespeare' so that the "To be or not to be" speech of Hamlet is 'retranslated' for today's pupils as "It is, it isn't - isn't it?"
"What is the use of a book without pictures?"
Alice's opening remark in the first paragraph of the book.
Alice's dream fantasy ultimately revolves around the idea of just being silly. Alice discovers she can break rules, make words have two meanings, learn to think backwards, ignore bossy authority, become big, little and many sizes in between. Her dream stretches her in both mind and body.
Yet the story of Alice in her Wonderland presents a striking paradox. Alice is a little girl who doesn't understand books 'without pictures'. What Alice doesn't realize is that the words give you the pictures - but only if you have the imagination to create one from the other. Alice appears in her waking life to be an unimaginative child, yet, and here is the paradox, her dream is one of the most vivid stories ever imagined. One could say Alice is being sent into an inventive dream world in order to bring to life her dormant imagination.
In effect what Lewis Carroll is doing is sending Alice to sleep in order to wake her up!
Alice's Wonderland will be her special world of invention and creativity. She must become the stuff that dreams are made of. And once her imagination is awoken she will have the ability to read books and create her own pictures from the words on the page.
Alice's reawakening of the imagination is a main theme of Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland. Nallon's take on the story is that there is a need for the mind to play, to be inventive and to imagine, whether the mind be that of a child or of an adult. We all need a playtime for the mind.
When you dream, the rational, cognitive and reflective parts of the brain are put on hold whereas the intuitive, instinctive and creative parts of the brain go into overdrive. The conscious need to rationalize the experience of daily life is switched off during sleep and dreams. What is switched on though is our unrestricted instinct to explore the impossible. In our virtual reality world of dreams we create scenarios that would be impossible in our waking existence. In a way, dreams are sane people's way of going insane in safety. Reason goes offline and in comes madness.
The imagination is merely another form of dreaming. In the imagination rational thought is replaced by unfettered motivations and instinct. Call 'imagination' what you will - the fumes of fancy, sideways logic, wants as action, out-to-lunch reasoning - few writers have ever matched the fantastical imaginative vision of Lewis Carroll.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a story that enchants and excites children yet at the same time beguiles and fascinates adults. Children think it is a book for children and adults think it is a book about children for adults. What Lewis Carroll uniquely created was an adult's view of childhood that was a child's view of adulthood. The story of Alice is the experience of a bewildered child among bewildering grown-ups told by an adult who remembered what it was like to be bewildered. As a result Carroll's dual perspective mystically connects with both children and adults alike. Carroll's fable is a fantasy tale with a remarkable double-whammy impact.
Carroll's own child view of the world never really left him. Brought up in idyllic rural surroundings and among a loving family he was always creating poems and stories and putting on plays for his many sisters and brothers. His early writing is very much a child's view of bewildering adult authority. The poem "Rules and Regulations" which notably ends with the phrase: 'Moral: Behave'.
His Wonderland is an extension of this child fantasy world. It was an adult-dominated world and, somehow, he was able to hold on to this way of seeing the world.
Alice's Wonderland is run by bossy, bullying grown-ups. It is a lonely place for Alice as neither Wonderland nor Through the Looking Glass has anyone of her own age with whom she can associate. No wonder children at as loss to understand the adult world find it so easy to empathise with and latch onto Alice. No wonder too that they love it when she belittles the adults in the trial scene by growing bigger ("You're nothing but a pack of cards.")
Yet adults also enjoy the stories because the character of Alice is so naive. The Pigeon tells Alice she is a serpent because she eats eggs - to paraphrase Carroll the Pigeon basically says "Serpents eat eggs, you eat eggs therefore you is a serpent." The pigeon's logic (a classic syllogism), albeit flawed, is the sort of game that appeals to adults partly because it mystifies children.
The Lewis Carroll appeal then is to both to children who are growing up among grown-up as well as to grown-ups who can remember the growing pains of growing up.
In Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland both Steve Nallon and Alice are shape-shifters whose identities and dimensions are liable to change. Steve is an actor using his vocal ability as an impressionist to physically morph himself into various characters, creating a new celebrity 'cast' for Carroll's classic tale. Alice on the other hand is not only constantly changing size by eating cakes and the like, she is also constantly told she is someone else. She is taken for a house-maid, accused of being a pigeon, turned into a living pawn and is generally not herself at all. Steve Nallon as an impressionist is by definition never himself and in effect the heroine Alice becomes not who she is but who people decide she is as she changes from size to size and from episode to episode.
The capacity to be other people, and to see 'ourselves' as others see us, is part of growing-up. Play, pretend and, of course, imitation, are all part of that process for when we pretend we imagine ourselves outside of ourselves. We become someone else looking in. In Wonderland Alice experiences other perspectives of herself by becoming different shapes and sizes. More importantly though she encounters 'herself' through the perspective of other creatures.
In Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland Alice's changing identity is taken a step further than mere size. In the show Alice becomes not so much big, medium and small but different versions of herself across a variety of social levels - upper, lower and middle. 'Alice' the upper class lady is played by Penelope Keith. Later Maggie Smith with her northern vowel sounds of the lower-middle class becomes yet another 'Alice'. The would-be upper class 'Alice', who is not quite to the scale of the real upper class lady, is played by the social climbing Hyacinth Bucket (Patricia Routledge).
This multi-character 'Alice' is a modern social satire using the basic principle of Carroll's original multi-sizes Alices. By giving 'Alice' a series of different identities across various heights and levels of social status in British society the show is also reflecting a theme of class distinctions that also runs throughout the original book. In the Lewis Carroll story Alice is truly worried by the prospect of being a poor child like 'Mabel' and offended that she is taken for a servant girl.
Alice's simple aim throughout the story is to become 'herself'. The irony is, as with a playful game of pretend, that we can begin to know ourselves better when we become, at least for an hour or two, other people. In the show this becomes a major theme. It is not just through meeting other people that Alice learns more about herself, it is also by being other people (through pretending) that Alice can eventually become herself.
So what is the answer to the question posed by the Caterpillar? Ironically, only when we no longer feel the need to answer such questions as "Who are you?" do we become who we are. Perhaps the answer is, "I am who I am and who I am requires no definition".
Death is a major motif throughout the story. There is much Black Comedy in the Alice stories. Many rereading the book are surprised by the number of 'death-jokes' they find. The most famous jokey death references of course come from the despotic Queen of Hearts (portrayed by a wicked and cruel Anne Robinson in the show). The catch-phrase, "You are the Weakest Link, goodbye!" develops into the more menacing, "Off with their heads". Humpty Dumpty (a lethargic Johnny Vegas) is told by Alice she is seven years and six months old. In a truly Black Comedy moment in the story he suggests she might have been better to stop off at seven!
Wonderland is no Eden. There are references to being eaten alive in the original Carroll which in Steve Nallon's show is reflected by the celebrity cook Delia Smith suggesting a delicious recipe that would include Alice chopped up into little bits. Of course, this sort of Black Comedy has always been popular with children and can now be found in the children's stories of Roald Dahl; as ever, a tradition that owes its origins to Lewis Carroll.
There is a distinct Englishness in the social class distinctions that are found in the Alice stories. 'Alice' is a typical upper class little girl based on a real Alice, one Alice Liddell, daughter of the Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford. Here was a girl whose world revolved around tea parties, parlour games, school governesses, croquet on the lawn, collecting flowers and even meeting visiting royalty.
The Alice of the story is very much aware of her status. However, when she begins to doubt that she is 'Alice' she becomes fearful that she will become someone of lower class. Indeed 'Alice' is even more frightened of turning into 'Mable', the child who lives in "that poky little house" with next to "no toys to play with", than of her experiences encountering talking Cheshire Cats or an insane Hatters.
The tale is a dream created from a real society that was the real Alice's waking world. This world was a world of deference: respect for her school governess, honour to representatives of the law and above all loyalty to the crown and the monarchy. All this though is turned upside down in her dream landscape. The social norms and mores disappear and are replaced by something both frightening and appealing. One way of visualizing the essence of Alice's dream version of her society is to imagine the kind of paintings Salvador Dali might have created had he ever been asked to illustrate a Jane Austen novel.
Rules, balance, order, regulations and control. These were bywords for the Victorian society of Lewis Carroll. Carroll (Dodgson) was known as a stickler for details and a bit of a pedant. This is reflected in the many characters he created in his Wonderland stories that are constantly questioning or correcting a bemused Alice. These range from the philosophical questions asked of Alice by the Caterpillar ("Who are you?") to the March Hare's correction of Alice's misunderstanding of language in mixing up saying what one means and meaning what one says. There are several other characters in the stories obsessed by rule making and forthright in their corrections, notably The Red Queen, who is the essence of the overbearing governess.
Alice throughout the story is constantly breaking rules and transgressing codes. She tries to remember a moralizing poem only to turn it into something very comic in "You are old, Father William." She kicks Bill up the backside when the lizard comes down the chimney during her brief visit to the White Rabbit's house (which she almost destroys).
The appeal of the story for children (and adults) isn't just rule breaking. Alice is the underdog and so Alice's achievement and ultimate appeal is her triumph over the adults that dominated her, notably in the scene with the pack of cards. Alice breaks rules and flouts authority - both characteristics that have popular appeal with all ages.
Language and its occasional duality of meaning is a theme linked to the changing nature of identities. Everyday words are far less useful to Alice in her Wonderland than she might perhaps have expected because their identity/meaning is not fixed. Even the mouse's 'tale' is stretched to become the shape of a tail, an example of Emblematic or Figured Verse, where poems are laid out to resemble visually their subject matter. In Wonderland puns, homonyms and word play abound. Not/knot and taught us/tortoise are just two examples of word confusion that Carroll uses to befuddle Alice. Linked to this is the idea that words can't be just swapped round as if their identity were the same. In the tea party scene Alice asserts that she says what she means or at least "I mean what I say -- that's the same thing". It is pointed out the meaning is not the same: 'I see what I eat' is not the same as 'I eat what I see'. In the show Woody Allen is the March Hare at the Tea Party and his example is more New York in its construction: I like the sex I get is not the same as I get the sex I like!
Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland is not just a re-telling of Lewis Carroll's original it is also a re-invention that tries to some degree to make sense of the apparently surreal and nonsensical Alice stories. Some of the 'making sense' is mocking of the many absurd theories that have been put forward as explanations of the tales. In a Newsnight Review skit Steve Nallon has the writer and critic Germaine Greer expound on her view of Alice as a 'feminist deviant' followed by her colleague Tom Paulin who thinks the story is about imperialist repression. However, there is some sense in Lewis Carroll's nonsense.
In dreams, familiar objects are made unfamiliar -- in Wonderland a flamingo famously becomes a croquet mallet. In nonsense too, the familiar is made unfamiliar by juxtaposition -- for example, '"The time has come," the walrus said, "to talk of many things: of shoes -- and ships --and sealing wax -- of cabbages -- and kings."' The riddles and puzzles appear to be meaningless. Yet Lewis Carroll believed that the idea of finding meaning in nonsense, riddles and puzzles was meaningful to children (and, indeed, adults). Lewis Carroll's nonsense is not just nonsense: it is nonsense about nonsense. It comes from the mind of a trained academic schooled in philosophy and logic. There are many examples of apparent nonsense being far from nonsense. The pigeon uses a syllogism to prove that Alice is a serpent. There is logic on both sides in the argument as to the possibilities of being able or not being able to chop off the Cheshire Cat's head when it is already disembodied.
Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland explores some of the processes of logic that lead to absurd conclusions. In one scene that reflects Lewis Carroll's training as a mathematician Steve proves through a simple mathematical formula that 2=1.
Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland is Lewis Carroll for grown-ups. If adults wish to bring children, an age of twelve or above is recommended.
The entertainment is an 'adult' show in the best sense of the word. The intent is to reflect many of the quirky ideas about identity, language, disorder - all found in the Lewis Carroll original - and put them in a contemporary context. The show is intelligent, questioning and witty, as well as being greatly entertaining and very funny. It is certainly a family show in that there are few sexual references and no swearing. However, the show is still primarily aimed at adults, or older children able to understand the more mature themes, even though teenagers may not always recognize every member of the celebrity cast, they will always enjoy the different voices and characterizations.
The show is not suitable for young children.
Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland is a re-invention of the Lewis Carroll stories rather than a straight forward presentation of the original text. In this sense, the show is following in the tradition of the adaptation that takes a strong individual perspective on the story and then re-presents the tale (and the thinking behind it) from that point of view. Jonathan Miller's 1966 film for BBC television saw the Alice tale as a story about a confused, rather melancholy child growing up in an 1860's Victorian world of adult authority, a world of which Alice would eventually be a part. The more recent Chicken Shed Theatre Company's production of Alice On The Underground by Chris Bond mirrors the dream figures of Wonderland but draws upon the stark reality of 21st-century London life, including drugs, violence and prostitution.
Steve Nallon's show chooses a different route, and instead focuses on the gaining self awareness, the need for upside-down thinking to cope with contemporary life, and the importance of imaginative play for all. The show also occasionally offers the audience an insight into some of the ideas that influenced the original book, such as the emergence of the Darwinian theory of evolution that Carroll sped up to comic extremes in the Alice stories. With his satirical background on such shows as Spitting Image, Steve mixes these themes and ideas with his views on today's mad world of culture, politics and sport.
'Lewis Carroll' is the pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (the 'g' in Dodgson is silent). 'Lewis' is derived from Lutwidge (in English Ludovic or Louis). 'Carroll' is a variation on the name Charles that originates from the Latin 'Carolus'. Charles Dodgson, according to the memory of Alice Liddell, the original Alice, 'carried himself upright, almost more than upright, as if he had swallowed a poker.' He was a thin man who walked eighteen miles a day, timed to take five hours and twenty-five minutes. Dodgson had a stutter (or 'hesitation' as he called it) and would introduce himself as 'Do-do-do-dson'. Hence, he was known as 'Dodo', a creature that makes a brief appearance in Wonderland.
Dodgson was an inventor, like the kindly White Knight ("It's my own invention!"). Among Dodgson's theoretical inventions were a travel chess set with attachments to be placed in holes on a board, a word game where words were created from various square letters (essentially a prototype Scrabble™) and a betting system that guaranteed winnings at the Derby. The latter, he pointed out, was impractical because no bookmaker would ever accept such a combination of bets.
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Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland premiered at the Buxton Festival Fringe, where it won the prestigious Best Comedy Award. The show was also seen at the Jermyn Street Theatre in London's West End. In August 2004, it was presented at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where it received rave reviews. The show was originally workshopped in 2003 at the MAC in Birmingham, and the Little Angel Theatre in Islington, London.
Armed only with his voice, charm and an enviable feel for his story, impressionist Steve Nallon launches into one of the most magical re-tellings you will see of Lewis Carroll's surreal classic.
A human carousel of characters, Nallon plucks them at will to bring Alice and her loopy co-stars to life. Robin Williams becomes the White Rabbit, Kenneth Williams the Dodo, Ann Widdecombe the Duchess, David Beckham the Dormouse and, in a masterstroke of casting, Homer Simpson pontificates as the Caterpillar and Johnny Vegas morphs into Humpty Dumpty. Even Julie Andrews, Basil and Sybil Fawlty and Ozzy Osbourne get a look in for reasons I can't quite fathom but continue to chuckle over.
And it is not all burlesque, there is some subtle stuff going on here if you concentrate. When Alice starts to shrink, Nallon has her descend the social scale - thereby going from posh Penelope Keith via a middle-class Maggie Smith to a very lower working-class Caroline Aherne of The Royle Family. Curiouser and curiouser - and clever too, when, as she gets larger again, Alice goes through a Patricia Routledge-as-Mrs Bucket phase. All quite logical really.
Magically paced and vividly presented, Nallon's impressions find unexpected humour in material that is already eternally comic.
The top mimic returns with his third one-man show based on a classic, following his Big Odyssey tribute to Homer in 2002 and box-office busting A Christmas Carol last year.
A founder member of the Spitting Image team, Nallon worked on the show for more than ten years and has since collaborated with Alistair McGowan and Rory Bremner. So, it should come as no surprise that he has an astute aptitude for impersonations and celebrity satire.
Here he re-imagines the cast of Lewis Carroll's tale from today's cultural and political pantheon, using little more than his voice and the odd prop. This is one of those shows which improves as the performer finds his flow, with some golden strokes of genius as each new character is revealed. While many of his impressions are bang on, his real achievement is the way he recognises the key features of Carroll's archetypes in celebrities.
Thus, the harassed, uptight White Rabbit becomes Robin Williams; the hard-nosed Queen of Hearts is reinterpreted as Anne Robinson; the dozy dormouse, David Beckham; the imbecilic, grinning Cheshire Cat, Tony Blair, and so on.
Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland will make you see both Alice and the real world in a new light but, best of all, it's simply a joy to watch.
Steve Nallon's Adventures in Wonderland does not set out to educate, shock or enlighten me. It does, on many levels. Its first priority is to entertain, and this goal is achieved in spades. The use of Alice in Wonderland as a vehicle for Mr Nallon's many talents is a masterstroke. From Beckham to Widdecombe he makes you believe in his characters , however absurd the concept may be.
Bruce Wofford, USA
What does an impressionist do when his most famous impersonation is no longer on the scene? Mike Yarwood never quite got past the loss of Harold Wilson as Prime Minister. And what of Steve Nallon, the definitive voice of Margaret Thatcher, from Spitting Image? Well, in his show, Adventures in Wonderland, he proved that there is much more to his talents than the Iron Lady.
As the title suggests, Steve Nallon constructs his show around Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (with bits of Through the Looking Glass thrown in for good measure), re-casting his array of grotesque and charming characters with a continuous stream of impressions. Thus the White Rabbit becomes a manic Robin Williams, the Caterpillar a stoned Homer Simpson, Tweedledum and Tweedledee are the Chuckle Brothers, and who else could be the ever-smiling Cheshire Cat but Tony Blair?
Inevitably, not every impersonation hits the spot. Nallon has a light voice which doesn't necessarily lend itself to every personality he attempts. However, for a performer who's best known as a vocal impressionist, Nallon has an uncanny knack at getting the physical mannerisms of his subjects just right. Thus, while, for example, the aforementioned Blair is perhaps not the best vocally, physically it is spot-on.
And when he finds a voice which suits his skills, the whole thing takes off: his legendary Thatcher, of course; a poised Penelope Keith; a touching John Gielgud; a gimlet-eyed Anne Robinson; a stammering Woody Allen; a hilarious Patricia Routledge and a perfect Alan Bennett were amongst the highlights.
In an age when the art of the impressionist (on television at least) is sometime obscured by the work of an army of make-up artists and costume designers, Adventures in Wonderland is a great opportunity to see one of the legends of impersonation at close quarters. Steve Nallon is a friendly and engaging stage presence and still, despite the disappearance of Baroness Thatcher from the public scene, at the top of his game.
Oh, and were Spitting Image to return tomorrow, his uncanny Anne Widdecombe, all cliches and platitudes, could easily take the place of his most famous creation.
Following graduation from the Birmingham Theatre School Carolyn worked extensively in various TIE and profit share companies as an actor before directing for The Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, where her productions include: Gotcha, Abigail's Party, Touched, Steel Magnolias, Stags & Hens, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Beggar's Opera and A Taste of Honey. She then directed Two and Kiss of the Spiderwoman in association with New Birmingham Theatre Company and Bellyflop, Scraps and Get By In Italian for ReAct Theatre Company.
After gaining an MA in Playwriting Studies at the University of Birmingham Carolyn went on to direct seven plays for the University Drama department between 1999 and 2002. She has also directed several productions for Birmingham School of Speech and Drama and a number for independent companies, including My Wrong Mr Right and Strictly Missionary at MAC, and a rehearsed reading of Stephanie Dale's Blind Summit at Soho Theatre, London.
Carolyn has written the stage plays Having it All, Wenches, Out in the Garden and Tarnished Wings. Out in the Garden was a sell-out success at the Finborough Theatre, London and Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh. Her Radio 4 play Square Circle Triangle was nominated for the Richard Imison Award and her latest radio play, Tarnished Wings, was broadcast on Radio 4 in December 2003. She has also written several episodes of the BBC1 serial Doctors and is currently writing Renard the Refugee, her first novel.
Currently Carolyn is Visiting Writer to University of the West of England.
Thanks go to Jo Thackwray for her advice and work on costume, and to Paul Jomain for his creation of some of the Wonderland and Looking Glass props.