© Christophe Raynaud de Lage

Lewis versus Alice
Le Festival d’Avignon

Reviewer's Rating

This year, at the Avignon ‘In’ festival, a show with a curious name is presented: it is called Lewis versus Alice. Macha Makeïeff, the director of the Marseille National Theater La Criée, presents a show inspired by Lewis Carroll’s work as well as his life.

When the actors enter the stage wearing large animal masks, I hear someone saying, ‘It looks like a David Lynch production’ with a good Southern French accent. This makes me smile, and he is not wrong: those animals (mice, rabbits, even a crocodile) do look like Lynch’s Rabbits and give an eerie dimension to the show from its very first minutes.

The show, which aims to intertwine Carroll’s fictional work and his biographical elements, is divided into four parts that correspond to four different ‘crises’. It seems to me that the differences between each part are quite unclear, and I have to say I do not understand the titles given to each ‘crisis’. The whole play seems to follow a twisted logic which is the one of dreams, which is actually quite coherent in a play about Lewis Carroll.

Another puzzling artistic choice of the show is the use of both the English and French languages, with only snippets of the English parts being translated into French. Theoretically, this is an interesting idea, because it enables the audience to be closer to Carroll’s own language. However, it is a risky choice: the fact that not everyone can understand Carroll’s native language (the play can be seen by children) makes the play a somewhat abstruse object.

Even if this is a bit unsettling, it does not keep the play from provoking laughter and awe. Its duality, represented even through the display of two distorted mirrors on stage, makes it as much a dark fantasy as a quirky comedy. Some of the most iconic scenes from Alice in Wonderland are made both funny and scary, such as the tea party. The actors are all great: I have to admit that the Cheshire Cat, voiced by Geoffroy Rondeau, terrified me, but that Rondeau is hilarious in his other roles. This is the first time I have seen a Queen of Hearts this likeable: she is played by Rosemary Standley (the singer of French-American band Moriarty), whose hypnotic voice beautifully lingers through the show.

Geoffrey Carey, who initially plays Carroll, brings a psychedelic touch to the show with his eccentric (but always right) acting. This crazier side to the show also stands out through the costumes, designed by the director herself, that sometimes look like they were stolen from the Beatles in their Sgt Pepper era.

Even if I feel like the deep meaning of the play escaped me (why does one of the two Alices ends up pole dancing, surrounded by animals?), Macha Makeïeff’s succeeded in creating a nightmarish and comical fantasy.

Summary in French:
Dans Lewis versus Alice, Macha Makeïeff entremêle les oeuvres de fiction de Lewis Carroll et des éléments inspirés de la vie de l’auteur. En résulte une bizarrerie fantastique en anglais et en français, tantôt drôle, tantôt terrifiante, où l’époque victorienne prend des accents psychédéliques. Le tout reste pourtant assez opaque de par le manque de traduction des passages en anglais qui exclut facilement certains spectateurs.