Opera and chess? No! Ballet and Lewis Carroll. Dancing vegetables, playing cards all set in Victorian Oxford. Nicholas Wright’s adaptation lacks the eponymous heroine’s descent into Wonderland, but begins with tea, wobbling jellies and Jack the Gardener. Carroll himself appears dressed (as a chessman?) no, not as a chesspiece, but as the White Rabbit (he must be graded under 140 then?-Ed.). Lauren Cuthbertson playing Alice has received a warmer reception than the Duchess, the White Queen – not played by Hou Yifan – and the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat.
Here, we fear, dance plays first fiddle and something of the story is lost to sight. But wait! Don’t we already know the story? Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born in 1832, an Oxford man that became a deacon less than 30 years later. In 1862 the imaginative cleric went on the picnic that was to be immortalised in fairytale. In 1865 and 1871 first ‘Wonderland’ and then ‘Looking Glass’ appeared.
They have never gone out of print and today present a field day for Freudians, a funny tale without (presumably?) any basis save for a story for children that adults enjoy and, once read, can’t be forgotten. Illustrations in my Wordsworth Edition show a chessboard battleground (p.177), a grumpy Red Queen instructing poor Alice (p.175), a sliding knight (p.166), a knavish king, cavorting pieces (p.163) and a bishop sitting on a stone, seemingly tired.
All of this gets celebrated by the Royal Opera House, tickets on sale now and (dare I say it?) Alexander’s ‘A Book of Chess’ an excellent intro.
Did Carroll know that rabbit means weak player? I doubt it. He’d have been too busy writing his next sermon and having another psychotic dream. We are grateful for this reminder of just what a wonderful world he created.