Belt Up Theatre's Outland, dips in and out of the mind of Lewis Carrol, exploring the way that he created his characters and worlds. It pays homage, in the best possible way, to his precision with, and celebration of, the English language – with a rollicking script, superbly mastered by its actors. It grabs you by the feet and dips you upside down into a barrel of his mind-altering moonshine elixir.
Change of character, costume, prop, and voice, we grow to learn, carries great significance, and you really feel that you're being kindly coerced down the rabbit hole, as it were. The piece borrows from Carrol's writing cleverly, never overdoing it. Rather than being just another creative take on the complicated criss-crossing of Carrol's life and works, Outland provides a unique and compelling perspective.
The sumptuously decorated, immersive, and plain fun Tiny Lounge space is a magic setting. In fact, the production design almost steals this show. Done any other way, I'd go so far as to say the show would not have made any sense at all. It invites a personal connection between the cast and audience which seems integral.
And it is a very charming cast indeed. It is not an easy charm – they remain highly focussed, perhaps remembering and representing the sweaty mechanations of the mind, and that pathos comes with the show's whimsy – but it is charm that makes you smile. It seems paradoxical that in a space providing instant comfort, the narrative and characters are hard to keep track of until a decent way into the play. Details unveil themselves, and things make sense – but I only wish I knew before. Stay alert! This show rewards the keen observer.
Outland also tackles audience participation – often a shaky thing. A little arbitrary here, I thought initially. However, when an older gent from the audience was taken to the piano (under the presumption that he probably could not play) and ripped out the Fleur de Lys, there were little twinkles of fairy dust discernible out of the corner of my eye.
Certainly a must-see Fringe show for its delicate complexity, or if nothing else, its affability.
Guy Masterson's Centre for International Theatre presents
Belt Up Theatre
Venue: Adelaide College of the Arts - Tiny Lounge
Dates: Feb 24 – Mar 18, 2012