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Belt Up's Outland
Published on Sunday, 07 August 2011

5 stars

C venues - C soco (venue website)
3-29 Aug, 8:30pm-9:30pm
Reviewed by Hannah Van Den Bergh

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

The prestige that precedes Belt Up may be seen as much as a curse as a blessing.  The constant need to reinvent themselves, maintaining their position at the forefront of theatre’s evolution, is as important as the very actors that sculpt stories in front of our eyes.  Yet expectation aside, Belt Up have crafted what can only be called a beautiful tale, telling the life and times of Lewis Carroll in their new work Outland.

Following this interpretation of Carroll’s life – a refreshing change from the countless adaptations of Alice in Wonderland – we watch the deterioration of a man plagued by ill-health and the intangible world in his head.  The refusal to accept the reality we are presented truly showcases the talents of actor Dan Wood.  Effortlessly gliding through transitions, he perfectly embodies the two professors: one riddled with illness, the other, the birth of a dream.  Stealing the show, Wood captivates the audience, almost blinding us to the other performers; they’re there to aid and support his rendition, like scaffold to a skyscraper.

At times, despite the superb character portrayal, the rapid and repetitive plot shifts – between reality and the dream world – became confused and incongruous.  Though part of Belt Up’s trademark disorientation, together with their set (a spectacular work of art in itself) and audience participation, at times we could have done with a slightly more accessible grouping of ideas which mirrored the pace of the play. Similarly, while much of the audience interaction works very well, some moments feel unnecessary and act more as a drag to the performance than an aid to transitions.

Despite those reservations, though, this is clearly a five-star show.  The total immersion left me captivated and overwhelmed; a true reminder of what it is to dream, and a performance which exceeds even our heightened expectations. For an hour I forgot who I was, and all the stresses that had rolled around my head were expelled, as Outland absorbed me in all its beauty and confusion. Never have I more enjoyed sweating into a leather office chair next to a complete stranger, and not even being aware of it. 

For all its fluidity, the piece in its totality felt polished.  From the incorporation of music and Carroll’s own poetry, to the set – equipped, like a lounge or drawing-room, with tankards and books – it was escapism at its best.  Inspired and awe-inspiring, Outland is a true credit to the future of theatre.

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