Rare is it to see a play told entirely from the perspective of a child. In Under the Bed, we are transported to the darkly magical world of Alice, who knows too much and too little at the same time. 154 Collective explores the murkier aspects of childhood trauma, using live music, animation and film to tell their enthralling story; the effect is theatrically spectacular.
Under the Bed begins as Alice is whisked away from her father, family home and some unnamed turmoil by her frantic mother, who takes her to a strange house in the middle of nowhere. Isolated and afraid, the imaginative Alice has only her teddy bear, a torch, a key, a plastic knife and a tea set for company – and her mother, who keeps her inside during the day. And then the nightmares begin: strange shadows at night, scratchings and whisperings from under the bed. As Alice is drawn deeper and deeper into her dreams, her unsettling fantasy becomes more and more indistinguishable from her equally unsettling reality.
One of the most interesting aspects of the production was the degree to which the audience were kept in the dark. Though the essence of the family trouble is hinted at, never is it explicitly said – Alice hears snippets of conversations here and there which drop clues. The lighting complemented this, often only provided by a faint torch or lamp, adding to the mysterious atmosphere. We are with Alice: we have a child’s half-understanding of an adult situation. The powerful sound effects allow us to sense the shadows that Alice can feel and her mother cannot; the live acoustic music’s lyrics pull Alice and us closer together, sung from her perspective much of the time; we take the trip through her mind with her, via a particularly powerful sequence of stop motion animation. This was thrilling: we were in 154 Collective’s own wonderland, with their Alice.
The performance of Emily Mallaghan as Alice was beautifully naturalistic. It was easy to forget one was watching a young child act, and not simply watching a real life Alice fight her demons. There was no ‘stage school’ quality to her portrayal of her character – it was instinctive. This truly was her show, though she shared it with the fantastic Leanne Rowley. Her performance as Alice’s mother was thoroughly engaging: Alice speaks her mind without a filter, whilst Rowley stifles her inner thoughts and feelings, cracking under the pressure at various points. The two characters and performances balanc one another perfectly.
Under the Bed is one of the most original shows I have seen this year. The Canada Water Culture Space and 154 Collective have created a visually stunning and emotionally affecting piece. Not to be missed.