Alice in Deutschland: Lewis Carroll novel gets 21st century makeover

 

ALICE IS on her way to a job interview and dashes into a department store for a few bits and pieces.

She is shouting into her mobile phone when a rabbit as big as a man appears, runs around her a few times and scampers off.

Alice plunges after him down a dark tunnel – not into Wonderland but into the bowels of the Karstadt department store on Berlin’s Hermannplatz.

Here, Lewis Carroll’s 19th-century favourite has been given a postmodern, 21st-century makeover.

Alice is now a frazzled 40-something with lanky blonde-brown hair and her Wonderland is a consumer hell: Dante’s Inferno meets Are You Being Served?.

For the next 90 minutes, a small audience follows her through the department store during opening hours.

Regular customers stare, open-mouthed, at this unannounced undermining of capitalism and consumerism before their eyes – and this in one of Berlin’s largest shopping temples, with the full blessing of the Karstadt management.

The theatre hit is the work of avant-garde Berlin theatre company MS Schrittmacher and its director, Martin Stiefermann.

“As a theatre man I was looking for a place where I could drag the material into the here and now, to find a place where the story works and also irritates,” he told Berlin’s Tip magazine.

He takes his audience down the dark passage after Alice, through a storage room of unseasonal Christmas decorations – life-size reindeer, oversized Santa Clauses.

Dragging herself from beneath a pile of mannequins, to a creepy Moog synthesiser musical accompaniment, Alice makes her journey through a retail world of stressed sales staff.

Upstairs in the women’s department, the smoking Caterpillar is now a patronising sales assistant. Her advice to Alice, who is increasingly confused about who she is: in this consumer world your identity is your clothes size, you are the brand you buy.

As the scene plays out, a Karstadt customer, trapped in the adjacent changing room, tries to hide behind the curtain her mortification at becoming an unwitting extra in this capitalist critique.

With shouts of “you’re fired, you’re fired”, the feared Queen of Hearts – now an imperious chief executive – strides on to the scene, dispensing with her minions’ jobs rather than their heads.

To a synthesiser soundtrack and empty corporate phrases, Alice tangoes with the Cheshire Cat – now José, an outsourced security guard – past bewitched sales staff before a final confrontation at the cash register.

Alice is no longer a witness in a trial, as in Carroll’s original, but is bombarded with one decision after another: Do you have a customer card? Do you collect loyalty points? Three for the price of two? Vouchers? Free delivery? Fairtrade? VAT refund?

Our heroine flees down the escalator and the show ends as suddenly as it began.

The disconcerted audience dissipates into the department store. Within minutes, they have slipped from capitalism critics back to mindless consumers, buying Easter eggs at the chocolate stand.

“Do you have a loyalty card?” asks the sales assistant.

The madness begins again.