Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has had a profound influence on popular culture. Today, however, most people probably think of Lewis Carroll’s story in terms of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland—a happy-go-lucky cartoon that whitewashed the original’s most sinister elements, as well as much of its sparkling wordplay. Plan-B Theatre Company’s Radio Hour: Alice re-imagines the “familiar” story through a darker lens, adding a gloomy overlay of seasonally appropriate morbidity to Carroll’s original narrative.
The story is framed as something of a guided visualization—the narrator, or “Psychopomp” (Bill Allred), opens by instructing listeners to close their eyes, breathe and relax. Allred propels us through the story with velvet, expressive resonance.
Four other voice performers, along with a Foley artist (Daisy Blake) and musician (David Evanhoff) provide the rest of the production’s multi-layered soundscape. Balancing these elements is a triumph of audio engineering, reaching a sublime cacophony when Alice (Emma Munson) falls into the pool of her own tears, along with a menagerie of creatures (Teresa Sanderson, Jay Perry, Tobin Atkinson). Equally delightful is Alice’s encounter with the hookah-smoking caterpillar (Sanderson), underscored by a mesmerizing, Jefferson Airplane riff by Evanhoff. The White Rabbit (Atkinson) is revealed as a cruel, bourgeois tyrant, while the Cheshire Cat (Perry) seethes with menace.
Even in its lighter moments, there are shadowy notes: The brilliant banter between the Mad Hatter (Perry) and March Hare (Atkinson) is both hilarious and disturbing. Wonderland is not a safe place for Alice, yet throughout, Munson maintains Alice’s attitude of cheerful skepticism.