I saw The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at Roundhouse. This is quite far away from where I live so I only saw the first half of this performance so this review is based on what I saw. Essentially the play is about the characters of Alice in Wonderland in therapy. Each character has a mental-illness and the therapist is trying to understand what is wrong with each of them and why they are like this.
This play is aimed at all ages; however, parents have to be aware that there are themes that children will not understand. So first you have Alice; she doesn’t know whether she should be big or small: she has anorexia. Next you have the Mad Hatter who is week and in pain due to “mercury poisoning”, so in other words he is addicted to drugs. Now you have the Queen of Hearts. When she was younger she was abused by her parents making her feel like she has to stand up for herself, causing her to grow up with anger management issues. The story of Tweedledumb and Tweedledee were the first to be found out but I found this the saddest of all. One of the twins died when they were little due to a fight that led to an accident and the other twin still imagines the other is there by screaming about a stolen rattle. My favourite of the actors was the White Rabbit. He has OCD and I found the way he portrayed the illness fitted very well with the character of the White Rabbit. Cheshire Cat was brought in and it was clear that he had been “smoking herbs” that has led to him feeling as though he has more than one personality, so he suffers from multi-personality disorder due to drug abuse. The Arch Hair has attachment issues and can’t seem to find a girlfriend that will stay with him which has led to depression and I am also pretty sure they hinted to him being suicidal but this was not direct due to the large volume of children in the room.
I absolutely love the idea of attaching mental illnesses to the characters from Wonderland. Although it brings a negative association to the term “mad” (I always think being a bit mad is nice), I think it is a great way of exposing issues of mental illness. However, I do have some major criticisms about this piece. The characters broke into hip-hop all of the time. I’m all for dance but the hip-hop wasn’t making sense and felt very detached from the emotions and themes. The OCD piece by the White Rabbit and the final dance by the therapist did, in fairness, work very well as hip-hop but this is only 2 out of a few dozen dance pieces. I feel like the piece would have worked amazingly without the hip-hop, or with the hip-hop but without the mental illness. It felt like throwing Alice in Wonderland, mental illness, and hip-hop was an attempt to draw as many people in as possible but they didn’t work together at all. It felt detached but not in a successful Brechtian way.
Another major criticism I have is the play being open to children. There was a young girl behind me who couldn’t have been older than 4. After the serious explanations of the mental-illnesses were given she would turn and ask her mother “what does that mean”. There is so much in the media lately about mental health issues being made aware and I felt this play almost made a mockery of that. The only thing in the play for the children was the dancing and I felt highly uncomfortable being around so many children when they were talking about beloved children’s characters wanting to kill themselves. I believe it may be successful for early secondary school children as they may understand the seriousness of mental health issues and could make them more aware, but this effect can’t happen on primary school children they are just too young to understand the seriousness. This play would have been hugely successful in my eyes if the hip-hop was taken out and the truths about these mental illnesses were shown to their full extent.
Thank you for reading,
Sophie’s Bubble J