Friday, June 22, 2018

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Alice and the Mad Hatter. Photo: Ken Jaques Alice and the Mad Hatter. Photo: Ken Jaques

Fantastical, Arresting, Curiouser and Curiouser

Margaret Larlham shares her perspectives on the play "ALICE: Curiouser and Curiouser."
By Jessica Ordon

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland." In the century and a half since the novel was published, there have been countless iterations and adaptations of the story. When there are so many famous recreations of Alice’s journey into the rabbit hole, how does one begin to create an original adaptation for theatre?

“This story — Alice sort of falling down this long hole and going into Wonderland — seems kind of apt in a strange way as I retire,” said director and adapter Margaret Larlham. “One of my big things is that I am a great faller. I’ve always fallen spectacularly well all through my life, literally. I’m not really frightened of falling, so it sits well with me. The whole story of this great fall that takes you to another place.”

With the titular character’s “great fall” at its center, Larlham’s "ALICE" seeks to captivate a young audience. However, like previous theatrical adaptations of classic literature that Larlham has done at San Diego State University’s School of Theatre, Television, and Film "ALICE: Curiouser and Curiouser" is meant to astonish a mature audience as well.

Larlham describes her unique style of directing and adapting as “an interdependency of music and song and physical things… quite sparse in the language.” She adds that she loves the design elements of theatre, “and making the world of the play so arresting for children” using aesthetic appeal. 

The world of this play as envisioned by Larlham is colorful and spectacular.  Her directorial concept was partly inspired by visits to Oxford, England, where author Lewis Carroll studied and taught.  “It’s full of secret gardens and on the architecture too, there are gargoyles and whimsical things, cats and creatures like the jabberwock,” she said.

British music and popular culture form the other part of Larlham’s conceptual inspiration, particularly that of the Beatles, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and even Monty Python. “It all belongs to that same genre of messing around between logic and nonsense,” she said.

Notable visual elements of the production include the set, a giant chessboard with raised 3-D squares, designed by M.F.A. Scenic Design student Chad Dellinger. Costume design graduate student Emily Smith also created a small army’s worth of fantastical costumes for the large ensemble cast of the show.

Speaking fondly of her cast, Larlham said, “These students are incredibly talented. I’m so lucky to work with them.” She believes in the merits of theatre for young audiences as an educational tool for student actors, and said, “Performers get the very best kind of training to perform for child audiences. It’s really nothing about ego. It’s all about the story, clarity of character, generosity of performance and collaboration.”

As for what audiences should take away from the show, Larlham is comfortable with multiple interpretations of Carroll’s world and Alice’s journey. She feels that the story is one of self-exploration, and of finding one’s own way around the world we live in.

“Alice is like all children — having to make sense of the world with what she knows," Larlham said. "But sometimes the world has got these hidden rules that seem to direct peoples’ behavior, and she challenges that. One remembers very well that bafflement that you have as a child about adult society and how it’s going along. And you try to penetrate it — you’re lovely and strong and bold at that stage, and so it’s wonderful to remember that.”