Alice in Wonderland


Produced by Asterions Hus, Denmark / UK, 45mins

Voila! Europe Festival, London | November 9-22, 2020

Nick Awde | THE X REPORT

Fearlessly billed as “a tribute to unreason, fantasy and anarchy”, Asterions Hus’ Alice in Wonderland is indeed fearless stuff that seamlessly fuses performer, props, set, costume – and the audience via their imagination.

In ripples of discovery, this solo physical piece sees Tilde Knudsen dip in and out of a variation of themes on movement, “insubordinate costumes” and music to fashion a multi-levelled minimalist retelling of Alice’s surreal journey.

Like a kids’ magic show, you wonder what’s in those tubs, smudges of russet against a stark black background that encircle the performer – and Knudsen doesn’t disappoint by pulling out a gallery of organic origami that transforms her into the denizens cramming Alice’s reality rabbit hole.

Knudsen gazes at each piece plucked from a tub with wonder, and what characters she next becomes evokes in us the audience a shared sense of discovery as she constructs from the modular pieces and simple geometry of circles, triangles and squares. There’s joy in that discovery and also a darker side as your imagination is tied to her coat-tails and you plunge down with her.

In Knudsen’s hands, Susan Marshall’s card and cotton artefacts turn into rabbit ears, petticoats in hoops anthropomorphise, leggings and cuffs become… well, something or someone else. A flip, a sleight of hand and there’s a full-body garb swirling a dance that’s part-White Queen, part-whirling dervish before morphing into something quite quite different.

A walrus or manatee might be the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar gyrates to clarinet and grating SFX, brandishing a tub at the end of each limb Knudsen bodypops to summon up Tweedledee and Tweedledum. She shrinks and expands, fights objects unwilling to give up their form while those rabbit ears pop up unbidden, threatening to derail everything.

With Minecraft precision, each event builds another block of this fantasy dream world in which, as Alice quickly learned, the only thing to do is to keep moving.

Voice and dance lace the action while underpinning it all is Klaus Risager’s soundtrack of volume pedal guitar, spacey piano, off the beat drums – moody, edgy, uplifting that evolves, splits and mutates in parallel.

Knudsen’s crystal choreography, aided by Liv Mikaela Sanz, convincingly meets Marshall’s cat’s cradle pieces, their durability and modular surprise taking this light years beyond workshop noodling, and their simplicity ensures that Knudsen, remarkably, doesn’t get entangled at any point.

Director Peter Kirk meets the challenge and fuses all these strands into a cohesive flow, giving everyone/everything their space and centrestage moments while ensuring that Knudsen or the narrative never risk becoming drowned out.

And own-up time: I easily prefer the experience of this sort of physical show onscreen than in real life. However, in the flesh, in-venue, in a post-Covid world, it’s easy to see this will also be just as compelling – and just as fun.