On 7th August, I was lucky enough to be invited to watch the play Crocodiles in Cream at the Barn Theatre in Smallhythe Place. Smallhythe was the country home of the famous Victorian actress Ellen Terry, and The Barn was her own private theatre. These days, the National Trust has opened the theatre to the public, and there are often wonderful shows put on there.
Crocodiles in Cream is one such show.
This one man play details the life of Lewis Carroll during his time as a don at Christ Church College, Oxford, where he lived alone for 40 years. Superbly acted by the wonderful Kevin Moore, this was a different portrayal to the many other biographies of Carroll – the Rev Charles Dodgson – that have come before. The shy, witty, eccentric, funny, brilliant, yet tormented man that Lewis Carroll was is given a chance to tell his own story, to give his own side of himself, through his writing, letters, and poetry.
In Crocodiles in Cream we learn of Carroll’s love of photography, specifically taking pictures of the little girls he so loved. The play makes slightly uncomfortable viewing with twenty first century eyes and minds, and the audience must question whether they wish to take Carroll’s naivety – as he himself views it – as truth or not. Even Carroll himself admits that his contemporaries find it strange that he takes children to his room and on short holidays to Eastbourne, but he protests his innocence, explaining that they are simply friends. Yes in another of his letters to one girl’s mother, he asks whether the girl is ‘kissable’. And why, if there was nothing untoward in his relationship with the many children he heartily proclaimed to love, did so many parents soon prevent the man from making contact with them. This included little Alice Liddell’s mother. We learn that Alice herself, as an adult and with children of her own, ignored Carroll’s pleas for her to visit when she was in Oxford.
Through these letters, poems, and more, we begin to understand exactly how distraught Carroll was when Alice was no longer there to be his muse. When she grew up, when she left him – or was made to leave him.
Moore gave Carroll a pathos that, notwithstanding the strangeness of the man’s relationship with the children, was heart breaking to watch.