A new digital take on Wonderland, Alice2 picks up how Lewis Carroll used popular games as narrative structures, says Monique Grbec
Lewis Carroll’s 1865 and 1872 fairytales Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass playfully present popular games of the time as obstacles for Alice to overcome. In the first book, she ventures onto the croquet ground of a deck of cards kingdom ruled by the tyrannical Queen and simpering King of Hearts. The croquet balls are live hedgehogs, the mallets are flamingoes, and the hoops are card soldiers.
Carroll’s satirical picture of the Victorian monarchy presents a Queen embodying the uncontrolled emotion of “blind and aimless fury” who wields their power with cruelty and the constant threat of death and destruction: “Off with your head!” The Queen demands executions until there’s no-one left to play the game except the Queen, King and Alice.
We cannot change the cards we’re dealt,
just how we play the game
In Carroll’s sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen is human-sized and is “cold and calm… formal and strict, yet not unkindly; pedantic to the tenth degree”. The Red Queen reveals to Alice that the countryside is laid out in the squares of a giant chessboard and offers that if Alice can make the eighth row in a chess match, she can be queen.
A King may be the most important piece on the chessboard
however the Queen is the most powerful
as she performs more moves than any other token.
Men take notes
Karim R. Ellis
For Alice2, an RPG digital adaptation made for Melbourne Fringe, Samantha Hafey assumes the role of Alice in James M. Walker’s live action roleplaying game that delves into a mathematical adventure via the intersection of square root formulae and a six-sided dice, with a dash of tennis terminology and the ticking of a clock. Lewis Carroll would surely be thrilled!
The monitor visual is divided into a two screen hand-held computer game with control buttons to the sides. Anime-style portraits present digitised dialogue on the top screen and the lower screen offers live action.
The live action takes place in a darkened space squared into “four corners of fun” by strings of brightly coloured spotlights laid on the floor. Each square signifies a status with the King being number one, the Queen number two and the Knight three, while Alice, as an unknown, takes on the fourth square. The cast, dressed in black, uses physical performance to affirm what can’t be read through their facemasks.
Megan Rojales as the pedantic Queen is a reinvention of Carroll’s Red Queen. She offers the polite and inquisitive Alice “strict yet not unkindly” advice as they join the game. Instructions include Alice curtseying when addressing the royal pair, and that “only perfect practice makes perfect”.
There’s some confusion about Alice’s mathematical prowess when at one moment they ask about basic calculations and then a moment later overzealously agree with a proposition that the number eight is too common.
“How did you get to be Queen?” they ask. And somehow, the Queen decides that this unknown could usurp the King. “Remember practice makes perfect”, she reminds Alice, as she subs out to give Alice her place.
“You don’t deserve that number, Alice,” laments the Knight (Samuel Pringle) as he moves through the space with fluid grace.
As Alice takes on the acerbic and gruff King, performed by Con Coutis, the dialogue is meted out with some common tennis descriptors. There are serves and rallies and counting down from 100 in squares to reveal the synchronicity of 0, 1, 4, 5, 6, or 9 with the six sides of the dice popular in Carroll’s time.
“Why do you get to choose the rules?” Alice asks the King, who decides on the numbers so only he can win. Then, remembering the Queen’s advice, Alice works with the Knight to control the numbers until King is forced to forfeit. Game Over.
While it isn’t quite the colourful extravaganza of Carroll’s Alice stories, Walker’s use of technology adds a dimension to the series that Carroll speculated about in his Through the Looking Glass. Looking into the glass of our computer screens, this virtual Alice experience is a place for the focused and the dreamers.
Alice2, written and directed James M. Walker. Music Tom Ray. Performed by Samantha Hafey, Con Coutis, Megan Rojales and Samuel Pringle. Produced and performed by Ithaca Arts for Melbourne Fringe. Bookings