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 Carroll’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 Carroll’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 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.