Alice in Wonderland: pink elephants edition

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Out goes a cute and wholesome Wonderland popularised by Disney and in comes a sinister Wonderland with danger and menace around every corner. Yes, I like it.

I know we should avoid comparing adaptations of stories to the Disney version where one exists, but for one it’s appropriate to open with a bit of Disney trivia. In the early days of Disney, there were two distinct styles of animation. “West coast” was the style that could be considered traditional Disney, with wholesome content, naturalistic drawing and usually a moral. “East coast”, on the other hand, featured morphing characters, themes of drugs/sex/death and usually hedonistic jazz music, of which the early Betty Boop cartoons are the best known example today. Walt Disney did, however, have some East Coast animators on his books, and when he let them get their hands on Dumbo, they added into the wholesome and twee story the drug-induced nightmare sequence that is the pick elephants sequence. And that is why children have had nightmares since 1941.

And so we come to the New Vic’s version of Alice in Wonderland. All of Theresa Heskins’s Christmas productions have been big successes, filling up the theatre long after most pantos have packed up, but this is regarded as the biggest success of all. (Indeed, Northern Stage picked this up for the own Christmas Production a few years back.) Having now seen this for myself, I can best describe this as how Disney would have done Alice if Walt had given this the Pink Elephants treatment. And, for the avoidance of doubt: that means I liked it.

The New Vic makes a big thing of their titular character being different from the one we’re used to. In both the book and the Disney version*, the story begins on a very middle-class rowing boat in the very middle-class Cotswolds. Theresa Heskins aims to make this more relatable to a Stoke audience by making her families who travel through The Potteries on a canal boat (Stoke, of course, having loads of canals). They live day to day and just get by. A clever bit in the town is where everyone she meets has an upcoming alter-ego in the other world. The future Mad Hatter is earning a living as a hatter (because of course), and the future White Rabbit is currently a slightly sinister magician pulling a white rabbit out of his hat. Out goes the rabbit hole and in goes a trap door in the theatre where the white rabbit magician is working.

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What’s worth watching: Vault Festival 2023

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Skip to: All Falls Down, Salamander, Experiment Human, Police Cops: Badass Be Thy Name, Finlay and Joe, Isobel Rogers, Lachlan Werner, Hide, Notflix, The Dark Room, Criminally Untrue

One year ago, the Vault Festival suffered what was surely the worst possible disaster: with days to go before opening night, the whole festival was cancelled. It was very very very bad news for two reasons. Firstly, with Vault 2021 also cancelled, there was a clear three years between Vault festivals, with no guarantee that the community built up over the 2010s would still exist by the end of it. Worse, however, was the timing. 2021 was at least a planned cancellation; 2022, however, was supposed to be the big relaunch. Financially speaking, the last thing you want to do is cancel a large-scale event after doing all the up-front expenses.

Very easy to say this in hindsight, but an underground festival in London in the winter of 2022 never struck me as a good idea. Had they played it safe and gone for March-May 2022, I reckon it would have survived – but I don’t see how they could have postponed everything at the last moment. In different circumstances we could have been talking about one error of judgement that brought down one of the best loved festival of fringe theatre in the country … But – we are not. Vault 2023 is going ahead, and from the sound of things, it’s going to be as if nothing’s happened. Either Vault has deeper pockets than we realise, have good cancellation insurance up their sleeve, or they have a generous backer come to rescue we don’t know about. Whatever the reason, it’s back to business.

So this means it’s back to business for me too. I’ll shortly be going into my list of recommendations, but first, a recap on what to expect.

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7 Thoughts I have on the Jerry Sadowitz uproar

COMMENT: Some say it was hate speech, some say it way misunderstood – either way Pleasance mishandled the situation and Jerry Sadowitz has gained from the cancellation.

If you’ve made it this far past the Edinburgh Fringe without hearing about the Jerry Sadowitz fiasco, well done. For the rest of you, I’m sorry to have to remind you of this. But just when we thought that all of the arguments over the decisions made by the Festival Fringe Society were dying down, this blew up.

So, Jerry Sadowitz is a comedian who I’d never heard of and would probably continued to have never heard of were it not for a couple of performances at Pleasance EICC in the second weekend on Edinburgh Fringe. (Fringe Newbies: EICC is one of the biggest venues on the fringe, which the biggest of big name comedians perform at.) Out of the blue, the second of the two performances got cancelled. A bit of puzzlement at first, accompanied by some nerves – after all, the last known cancellation imposed on artists was one of the most notorious McCarthyite affairs in the history of the fringe. Then word got round about what it was he said and did that led to this. A lot of argument over what he meant, but on the face of it: holy shit. If anything was going to get you booted from a venue, this would.

The Fringe itself is open access, but the venues themselves are free to do what they want, and the decision to cancel was The Pleasance’s. This led to a big debate over freedom of speech at the Edinburgh Fringe. I gave some thoughts at the time, but now things have calmed down, it’s time to give some more.

A lot of the debate has been polarised by ideological leanings. For many people who’ve expressed an opinion one way or the other, it strongly looks like they made up their mind first and looked for argument to support their position second. So I should probably remind you at this point that I am myself very anti-censorship and pro-artistic freedom – although these comments, on the face of it, pushes my patience to the limit. You’ll have to decide your yourself if you trust me to be objective.

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