Listen To A 1960s Wonderland
With the 150 year anniversary of ‘Alice In Wonderland’ there’s been a lot of renewed interest in Lewis Carroll’s nonsense book this year. ‘wonder.land’ at the National Theatre is the latest updated incarnation of the Alice story, although – like the rest of the National’s winter season – it has proved a less than stellar success, dragging her into the internet age in what must be its most banal and unnecessary metaphor ever, with ‘wonder.land’ represented as a game played on a phone. But Alice always survives such tinkerings.
Disney’s Tim Burton version glued a superfluous story over it, but the makeup used in that film has taken root (something that happens a lot with Disney), all but replacing the Tenniel illustrations. There’s an inevitable sequel coming.
At the British Library, the current wonderland exhibition celebrating 150 years of ‘Alice’ (which I helped to inaugurate) used the Disney version to encourage children to get involved, which was rather a shame, although understandable.
It has always intrigued me that this story should have been so adapted, appropriated, re-imagined and re-illustrated since its conception. Because it has no plot and makes little sense it can therefore have any interpretation imposed upon it. Little girls are still enchanted by Carrollâ€™s original phantasmagoria, which continues to inspire new generations of writers and illustrators. As a child I found it exhausting and tiresome, but as an adult I came to appreciate its disjointed dream-logic and wordplay, and I liked various sinister versions, including Jonathan Miller’s nightmarish TV play.
At the British Library Lewis Carrollâ€™s original manuscript is on display with its hand-drawn illustrations, alongside editions by Mervyn Peake, Ralph Steadman, Leonard Weisgard, Arthur Rackham, Salvador Dali and others.
In 1965 the cheap music label Music For Pleasure released a double-album audio version of the story with its own songs. The book had been recorded many times before – there’s a particularly appealing version with silky-voiced Joan Greenwood and Stanley Holloway – but this one has a very 1960s Â lineup, including Dirk Bogarde, Karen Dotrice, Fenella Fielding, Bruce Forsyth, Harry H Corbett, Beryl Reed, Frankie Howerd, and – of course – Peggy Mount as the Red Queen.
You can hear the whole thing here.