Saturday 21st January 2017
While a lot of people are partaking in a dry January (myself included), waiting for that first pay check of the year or simply just hibernating, away from the bitterly cold weather, my friend and I went to the Roundhouse in Camden London to watch a stage production of Zoonation’s ‘The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party’ presented by The Royal Ballet, where this classic Lewis Carroll tale has been given a lively modern and contemporary make-over. Using live, dub-step and hip-hop music, dance and humour, as it explores the mental health of the characters from the Alice in Wonderland story described by Lewis Carroll as “Mad” and not “normal”.
The start of this production of the story it is set with the characters in a therapy session in The Institution for Extremely Normal Behaviour. The aim of the session was for Dr Ernest, who has a Phd in “normalization”, to “normalize” these characters with therapy to deal with their issues, including how they view themselves and how they are perceived in a modern society, where mental health is still very much a taboo.
The second part of this production was set is in Wonderland, a place where they have tea parties and everyone was accepted for who they are, because tea makes everything better.
Early in the performance we were introduced to the characters, as Dr Ernest was presented their files. As each of their names’ were read out a bright light shone down on to different sections of the audience where that character would be, they then performed an expressive dance – to the dub-step music that was playing in the background. There was an uncomfortable moment where I thought ‘you’ve made a mistake, I am not part of the show’ as a bright blue light lit up the area I was sitting in, only for me to turn and see that Alice was dancing away just behind me. This really set the tone for the rest of the show.
The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party explores Alice’s body dysmorphia and how she hated the way she looked and couldn’t decide whether to “drink this” to make her taller or “eat this” to make her smaller, so she choose neither and became anorexic.
The White Rabbit had OCD and was controlled by this condition and felt compelled to perform a number of tasks before he left the house which meant he was always late.
The Cheshire Cat had bipolar, whereby he experienced extreme highs, where he was sociable and liked by everyone, then extreme lows where he loathed himself and would be unsociable.
The March Hare just want to be loved, but loathed himself. How can you be loved if you don’t love yourself?
The Tweedledee and Tweedledum twins fought over a rattle because they did not want to share. At the moment the other twin was given a rattle, so they had one each, one of the rattles was not played with. In actual fact one of the twins had died and the surviving twin was struggling to cope with his grief. To help him cope he imagined he was still there playing with his twin, and so did his friends. To keep him happy they removed the second rattle.
The Queen of Hearts was volatile and aggressive and shouted off with their heads, but underneath she was vulnerable. Physically abused as a child by the adults that were meant to show her love, instead she got broken bones. Through that learnt behaviour the bullied became the bully.
Then there was The Mad Hatter, who was a passionate hat maker in a department store, he had mercury poisoning due to the compounds that were used to make felt hats. He was dealing with numbness in his hands, muscle weakness, hearing and speech problems, poor sight, dementia and impending death. This illness became known as the “Mad Hatter’s Disease” and coined the phrase “mad as a hatter”.
The play also looked at Dr Ernest, exploring the solo and lonely world of a therapist.
It was an amazing show and I really enjoyed it, it certainly made a change to hibernating indoors and was worth the journey on that cold January evening to see it. As much as it was tackling deep issues, it was very up-beat and celebrated our differences. It was a great experience and was deeply profound. I left there thinking I have just witnessed something very special. Unfortunately this was the 2nd to last performance of this sold out (month long run) show at the Roundhouse. I think this production should be toured around the country, as I believe more people need to see this show. The more people that realize and get the message ‘there is no such thing as “normal”’ the better society will be.