Everyone’s been there; at a Halloween party, trying to have a spooky time, and accidentally opening a portal to Hell. Writer Qui Nguyen’s work is well-known for integrating gore and horror tropes with puppets, humour, and a lot of fight choreography. This Australian premiere of his play Alice in Slasherland sees the Lewis Carol story turned on its head.
This theatre style isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes. It leans heavily on Scream aesthetics of slasher horror and gore mixed with humour that veers towards self-parody. There’s a lot going on from high school drama to supernatural monsters to a handful of nods to the Alice in Wonderland source text, but Nguyen takes everything to the extreme including heightened teenage hormones, gratuitous fight scenes, and lots and lots of blood.
At the centre of this production is a rift between Earth and Hell that Lewis (Bardiya McKinnon) accidentally opened up when he was rejected by his crush Margaret (Mia Morrissey) at Tina’s (Laura Murphy) Halloween party. Now all sorts of creatures like demons, Archangel Jacob (Josh McElroy), a talking teddy bear named Edgar (Justin Amankwah), and the devil herself (also Murphy), are running rampant all over town. It’s up to Lewis to befriend Alice (Stella Ye) and get her to use her powers to fight on their side before she succumbs to her demonic instincts.
The script demands high production value with a lot of multimedia aspects and niche requirements in puppetry and fight choreography. Set design from Lauren Peters is a simple collection of moveable panels, onto which video and title cards are projected (Susie Henderson), and that are used to create a variety of generic locations. Lighting designer Benjamin Brockman and sound designer Julian Starr should be commended for the way they used their mediums to inject drama and tension into the frequent fight scenes, choreographed by Nigel Poulton, especially Starr selection of pop and hip-hop inspired soundscapes which heightened the impressiveness of these scenes. However, no amount of design work could make up for the small size of the performance and backstage space which involves the audience too closely with the action and greatly reduces the impact of the fighting and violence. With actors and stage hands scrambling over each other to keep the stage clear and safe, the overall design comes across as clumsy.
Rachel Kerry’s direction emphasises the extreme emotions of high school with a focus on the love square between the main characters Lewis, Alice, Margaret, and Edgar. With so much happening in the script, this focus on the unraveling and reconnecting of the various romantic relationships leaves the horror aspect of the production unsatisfactorily executed. It is an immense undertaking to attempt to put a cinematic genre on stage and, whether through failings of the script or the space, Kerry’s rendition didn’t quite hit the mark.
McKinnon as the nerdy and well-meaning lead hero Lewis is charismatic and very well characterised. He balances large emotion and physicality with more subtle humour for a uniquely relaxed performance. Additionally, Murphy’s commitment to the hyper-sexual Lucifer with a solo cabaret number was a very amusing interpretation of the Alice in Slasherland attitude.
The Australian premiere of Alice in Slasherland is a good opportunity to leave your theatre expectations checked at the door and to step into an extreme, weird, and gory piece of performance. There is humour at the heart of this genre mash-up.
Alice in Slasherland is running at the Old Fitz Theatre from April 18th – May 1st