'Jabberwocky' – Little Angel Theatre
'Jabberwocky' is a very strange poem by Lewis Carroll, plopped down in the middle of his very strange book 'Through the Looking Glass'. Featuring a plethora of made-up words (“Twas Brillig and the Slithey Toves”) the poem seems to be the tale of a young man confronting some terrible monstery thing called a Jabberwock. It’s a tricky beast to adapt – the central conceit of boy meets monster is simple enough, but how to convey the atmosphere of weirdness, uneasiness and mystery in the original poem? What exactly does being "brillig" look like anyway?
In their staging of ‘Jabberwocky’, the Little Angel Theatre has made some very daring decisions. Most impressively for me was the choice to only use language from the original poem. This necessarily means that the play relies largely on visuals to tell its story – after all, just repeating “gyre and gimble” again and again would probably not hold an audience for 60 minutes. This is something of a gamble in a play for children, and shows tremendous faith in the capacity of youngsters to process the unusual. And this is one unusual production.
Beginning with a straightforward reading of the poem to a tiny puppet, the play opens up to a bleak landscape, occupied by a small house. A boy emerges from that house, and is immediately set upon by a flock of flittering warning signs that hiss “beware!” Following this the boy is chased by the house, which has suddenly grown a mouth and the ability to trundle. Strange things resembling prawns in waistcoats mutter to themselves in the sky. A forest descends from the clouds, narrow trees impaling the dirt, and something large and loud takes long strides through the mist.
This is a spectacularly designed show, with every scene offering some never before seen novelty. Peter O’Rourke’s set is suggestive of a nature bred from a geometry textbook, full of sharp angles and aggressive lines, a collision of dark forest and urban wilderness. The puppets are brilliant too, with no one resembling another. There are the steampunk borogroves, the monk-like mome raths and, towering above the audience (inspiring a few among them to cower), the gangly and boisterous bandersnatch. My favourite probably has to be the Jub Jub bird, a beast of right angles and wooden triangles that shifts and pivots itself into a kaleidoscope of bizarre forms, all of them hinting at some alien intelligence. By the time we reach the Jabberwock itself, whose design incorporates internal mirrors to catch and amplify the grim lighting, we are almost glutted with wonder.
'Jabberwocky' is a fine show, but beware: it’s a sharp jump into oddness from the lit and tamed world outside, and adults taking their children will afterwards be confronted with many questions that even Lewis Carrol himself couldn’t be expected to answer.
Little Angel Theatre