BBC Radio 4, 22 December 2012
Lewis Carroll (Julian Rhind-Tutt), aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was
a mathematician as well as a writer, an inventor and a compiler of puzzles. Frighteningly clever in his own right, he
simultaneously had the mind of a child, which helps to explain his ability to communicate with Alice (Lauren Mote).
Together they embark on a journey into a surreal world through the looking-glass, and by doing so discover the fragility
of narrative construction.
Tracey Neale's production showed just how relative the distinctions between
fact and fiction, 'reality' and 'illusion' actually were. We might take them for granted; but in Lewis
Carroll's world meaning was relative: anything could be interpreted in different ways, according to who perceived
it. The illogical became logical; the comprehensible incomprehensible; and vice versa.
This conceit was deliberately extended, as the production included several guest
voices - many of the voices associated with Radio 4's daily output, including Peter Donaldson, Jenni Murray, Evan Davies,
Melvyn Bragg, Kirsty Young, Jane Garvey, and Roger McGough. They narrated Carroll's tale in deadly serious tones,
as if they were broadcasting their own programmes; and by doing so emphasized the relativity of narratives - especially
those broadcast over the airwaves.
To a large extent, the pleasure of this production consisted of identifying
these voices - an experience not unlike that of watching one of those all-star pantomimes that used to be broadcast
on television when I was a child. The cast included Nicholas Parsons (as Humpty Dumpty) and John Rowe (The
White Knight) and Alistair McGowan (as Tweedledum and Tweedledee), which only served to enhance that sense of familiarity.
In truth, however, I do have to admit that at the end of ninety minutes, I felt aurally
rather exhausted. Maybe this was because of the sheer variety of voices I'd heard during the play; or perhaps
it was because the cast's speaking-style - including that of the special guests - was a little strident. Maybe director
Neale and writer Wyatt tried to cram too much into the production's running-time.
Nonetheless, I have to admit that the approach to Carroll's source-text was
a bold and innovative one, which for the most part proved highly entertaining.