The tale of Alice in Wonderland is told under a microscope. A "microscope show" of a fictional story may well be the first time this has been done. For five and a half minutes, an audience of four can sit in front of their own eye piece, attached to the central microscope where Clare Hampson moves slides providing the visuals of the story. The audience, with their own headphones, also follows the story through sound with music, dialogue and sound effects all craftily assembled by Clare as well.
This has been taking place at the Fringe Festival, Melbourne from 15th to 30th September at the Arts House in North Melbourne. Go up the main stairs and you'll see me dressed up as a playing card soldier (the Ace of Hearts, and the heart is an anatomical heart) and I'm your front of house. Squeezed onto the balcony at the top of the stairs is the show. A thin table, adorned with a table cloth and doily cloth, then with the long five eye piece microscope on top. In the middle sits Clare, keeping with the Victorian theme, dressed in a dress of the era.
Looking into an eye-piece, the story begins with the 2001: A Space Odyssey sound track and visual of the marble Earth coming into shot, then like zooming into Google Earth it moves to a Victorian green setting. We reach Alice's point of view. Her voice (Clare's) is an Aussie accent styled like those in the old Australian films like Picnic at Hanging Rock - for what today, the words would seem comically over-enunciated.
The story roles through the different characters and scenes of the story, each made of something different and of something associated with the character; watch parts for the rabbit, heart tissue for the Queen of Hearts, the Jabberwocky was a fruit fly. Within the story, Clare applies special effects with the limited tools she has - dyes continually pressed in the slides creating surreal abstract shapes, the use of layered cellophane and light producing alternate colours, and the animated running Alice. This last one was of only two silhouettes of Alice running, placed on one slide above another. Using the microscope, Clare would focus on one and then the other, continuously, giving the illusion of a running Alice.
Clare was so kind to credit me in this project. With the exception of drawing out the Alice silhouetted images, everything else in this project is hers. She sourced and put together all the slides that tell the story, composited the soundtrack and used her own voice for the variety of characters. She also built the table that the microscope sits on. Due to the awkward dimensions, this couldn't be easily found, so off to Bunnings we went. Additionally, for my costume she put together the fabric. The red beret is from her previous Fringe show, A Window in Mime.
The concept, I first heard about, on our first date, over two years ago. She described the monotony of her job as a pathologist, staring into a microscope day in and out, had given her an idea of a show. Among the cells, blood and tissue she would see things that looked like other things - fascinating both abstract and pictorial. She had already taken images of zoomed in material, such as wine, and turned them into a fabric print and then a dress (dressmaking is yet another of Clare's talents). She saw the potential to use these images to tell a story.
She has finished seven of the ten shows and its success has been incredible. Through word of mouth the show keeps getting more and more popular. The recent review in The Age was amazingly positive. It feels we're on track to have over 500 people see the show by the end of the week.