Friday, 27 September 2013


This is my final post of a small number of the attractions at Canterbury's Wise Words Festival.  I did debate rolling this one into the Wonderland post as technically they are part of the same exhibit, but the Imaginarium was so clever and had so much attention to detail that I wanted it to have its own post.

Inside the yurt in the centre of Wonderland was the Imaginarium; a series of interactive games and riddles, all inspired by Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass,  mixing modern technology and video filmed in the local area with handcrafted puzzles.  It describes itself as an interactive and immersive experience and was created by the internationally acclaimed theatre company Periplum.  You moved from table to table, took a seat, put on the headphones and watched the film.  Scattered around were paper flowers and real cacti, wellington boots stuffed with plants and herbs and suitcases filled with oyster shells.
Above you were beautiful centrepieces of parasols and birdcages, each one with a card suspended in the centre.
I just want to pause here and explain a bit about the films. All were individually created for the Imaginarium and featured panning images of iconic areas of the Kentish countryside and towns with a soft voice talking over the top, reading local poetry and stories.  The idea is that the films lead you into the hidden life of nature and its creatures, as though you were experiencing life on the back of a bumblebee, where an Ipad becomes your magnifying lens, leading you into the realm of the imagination.  The images show accelerated time, flowers opening and closing, undersea visages and rain falling and had an organic, sleepy, almost dreamlike quality to them which is really hard to convey in words!
The first game was clearly inspired by the riddle 'Why is a Raven like a Writing Desk?' At the end of the first video, which showed fields of golden corn and scarecrows with squawking birds, the first puzzle required you to search under the raven for the the instructions. You then noticed that on the far side of the table was a card with a raven feather in it.  You turned the table like a Lazy Susan to bring the card close enough to reach.  Once you lifted and turned the card pierced with the raven feather you found that the instructions on the back of the card told you to reach under the table, pull out the two giant decks of cards and play snap with the person next to you for three minutes.  At the end of the three minutes whoever had won the most rounds won the game. 
You then continued around the tables, each one set up in a similar manner, with the video leading to a clue which led to an instruction which led to a game.  One required you to play chess using tiny cacti as your pieces, with the checkerboard laid out like the countryside in Through The Looking Glass.
Everything had a very natural, organic feel to it with the sound of running water playing (from inside the wellington boots), green grass on the floor and live plants everywhere.  Even the chairs picked up on the natural theme with the seats being covered with grass instead of cushions.
Another table was set up as the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, with teapots and plates decorated with red hearts balanced at crazy angles.  This table required a test of steady hands as you had to move a cable along a wire without it making contact (a game that for some reason always appears in the children's area of doctors waiting rooms), after finding the instructions written on the petal of a flower!
My favourite station was the one set up as the Walrus and the Carpenter.  I'm not sure why but this was always one of my most memorable scenes in the books as well.  The Imaginarium set this table up with a nautical feeling; vintage suitcases filled with oyster print paper, pepples and oyster shells, old spyglasses and a glowering picture of the walrus looking down over it all.  It's a little bit grim, bearing in mind what actually happens to all the oyster children in the original story, but very cleverly put together for the Imaginarium.

Any Alice In Wonderland themed game would not be complete without the opportunity for a bit of table croquet (sadly minus the flamingo mallets) and this final table was the one that got the children the most excited as they tried to bat their tiny croquet balls through hoops decorated with white roses.
The entire attraction only took about 20 minutes to work through and was obviously geared more towards small children than adults in terms of the games, but the attention to detail, videos and wit of the Imaginarium was simply beautiful.

I would even go so far to say that it had an otherworldly air about it, giving you the feeling that you had really had ventured down the rabbit hole.

Sadly the Festival is over for this year but it will be back next Autumn and if the last two years are anything to go by it keeps growing and getting bigger and better so keep your eyes peeled!

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