We all know the story of Alice in Wonderland, whether it’s from watching the classic 1951 Disney animated film, or the objectively horrible 2010 remake, or just by reading the original source material, Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.’ It’s a classic tale of discovery and growth, both externally and internally, literally and metaphorically. Alice’s adventures have gone on to inspire countless other works, and her universality has gone on to cement her status as a fine example of the archetypal young, plucky hero.
Okay, so everyone knows about Alice, but why the hell would anyone care nowadays? It’s a fun adventure, but she’s just a girl who falls down a hole into a weird place with eccentric characters that represent various social mores of Victorian England. It’s fascinating to examine, but we have kind of moved on from that day and age.
New Nordic storytelling
That’s exactly what the women of Spindrift Theatre were thinking when they decided to create the interactive play ‘Carroll: Berserkur’, featuring the classic tale with a Nordic twist.
“Instead of placing this story in Victorian times, we started looking into our own history and heritage,” Bergdís Júlia Jóhannsdóttir says. She and the three other members of the company, who are assistant co-directors, discovered that there was a correlation between characters in Carroll’s work and their own Nordic folk history. For example, Iceland’s selkie, who lives part-time as a seal and part-time as a human, is a bit like Mock Turtle, who struggles with an identity crisis as he tries to navigate between two worlds. There are also some parallels between Iceland’s Vikings, who tripped on shrooms and went berserk on the battlefield, and the Mad Hatter, who has some serious emotional control issues, probably due to chronic mercury poisoning.
Another overlap with Carroll’s world and Nordic tradition is the idea of nonsense poetry. “Carroll had the nonsense poetry which is very clearly breaking the rules of Victorian poetry,” Eva Solveig explains, “and we have þulur, which is a very feminine way of saying poetry, by subverting the male dominant rules.” Similar to the way that Carroll wrote in the tradition of the stories through which children learn about the world, Bergdís describes þulur as nursery rhymes, passed down from mother to child in an oral tradition, describing what is and isn’t appropriate and what you should and shouldn’t do in life.
An interactive experience
In keeping with the relocation of Carroll’s tale, this isn’t a traditional stage play. Instead of Alice being a little girl in a blue dress with a cute apron and a hair ribbon, the audience is Alice. Playing with spatial and temporal limitations, the directors usher the audience from room to room like Wonderland’s living chess pieces, encountering the rebooted characters along the way.
While the directors had certain themes in mind, they worked with the performers to form the characters, encouraging them to bring in their own experiences. This meant that things could get very personal in the early development stage, with Bergdís, Eva, Henrietta, and Anna acting as therapists as well as directors, in a way. The characters were then assigned a room, and instructed to work with their space to structure their scenes.
How much: 3,500 ISK
When: April 9 at 20:00 (opening night) to April 17 at 20:00 (closing night)
Ultimately, the intent behind the production is, as Eva says, “to show different sides of the human being that we hide away in society, the things that are taboo.”
In Carroll’s story, Alice falls into a rabbit hole and out of Victorian society, where she grows and shapes herself through her interactions with all of the bizarre characters in Wonderland. The growing and shaping herself part is key, and the most universal aspect of the story. So the directors have stripped away the Victorian setting and replaced it with a Nordic one, but they keep the archetypes of the characters Carroll already had (the Cheshire Cat, the Pigeon, the Duchess, the Queen of Hearts) in order for Alice to interact with them and do her growing and shaping thing.
With the Nordic touch and some modern themes, the production promises to be much more than a derivative mishmash of shout-outs to Carroll’s rich Wonderland (we’re looking at you, Tim Burton). The women behind Spindrift Theatre have taken the source material to all kinds of new places, bringing a truly innovative retelling of Alice’s adventures to the stage.
This article originally appeared in issue 04, 2015, as “Alice’s Adventures In Nordic Wonderland.” Read the print edition HERE or find your copy all over Iceland.