ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Derby Theatre, Tuesday 6th December, 2016
Lewis Carroll’s classic dose of nonsense, word play and silliness poses at least one problem for those who wish to adapt it for the stage. Chiefly, it offers very little in the way of plot or character development. It is basically one strange thing after another until (spoiler!) Alice wakes up. It’s a dream and dreams, by and large, don’t have narrative structure or make much sense. Writer Mike Kenny addresses this problem by framing the visit to Wonderland in a present-day setting. Alice is a young teen facing an ‘important’ exam. The pressure placed on children to pass tests at various (too many) stages in their education is something to which we can all relate. No wonder she is having troubling dreams!
Abby Wain is a marvellous Alice, our guide through all the strangeness. Relatable, expressive and self-reliant, Alice is our touchstone for what is ‘normal’ in the weird world that surrounds her. Along the way, she meets outlandish characters who are reminiscent of people from her real life. Among them is Jack Quarton’s twitchy white rabbit, John Holt Roberts and Paula James as Tweedles Dee and Dum, and Joanna Brown’s imperious and tyrannical Queen of Hearts, whose remarkable costume would not be out of place on a fashion show catwalk! Neil Irish’s costumes bring colour and style to the blackboard set. Dominic Rye’s Mad Hatter is a dapper figure, sporting a kilt and playing the bagpipes – they’re a versatile bunch, these actor musicians – and he’s in great voice too. Ivan Stott’s original songs are all catchy and fun in a range of upbeat styles. A highlight for me is the Duchess’s Act One closing number, given plenty of welly by Elizabeth Eves, a perfectly pitched piece of character acting. It’s also fun to see Tweedledee and Tweedledum rocking out with electric guitars and Mohawks.
Dominic Rye’s Mad Hatter enjoys tart an’ tea.
There is much to enjoy here. Mike Kenny intersperses lines and rhymes from Lewis Carroll with poetry of his own, giving us the key scenes we expect to see: the tea party, the caucus race, the trial, the croquet match, and the caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat (both played by a lively Keshini Misha). Director Sarah Brigham makes inventive use of the theatre’s revolve and there is canny staging of Alice’s changes of size, and her fall down the rabbit hole is daringly presented with breath-taking circus skills.
I do think greater contrast could be made between Alice’s real life and the surreal land of her dreams. Her real life is stylised, as befits a musical, but it’s essentially the same space and means of presentation as the supposed weirdness of Wonderland. I would have gone the Wizard of Oz route if I was in charge. But I’m not.
By the end, we feel like we’ve been treated to spectacle and entertained by an energised bunch of talented performers. Alice comes to a kind of self-awareness and is able to put the Big Scary Exam into perspective – a valuable message, delivered in an irresistibly enjoyable way.
Alice (Abby Wain) in a key scene. KEY SCENE!!… Suit yourselves.
Leave a comment | tags: Abby Wain, Alice in Wonderland, Derby Theatre, Dominic Rye, Elizabeth Eves, Ivan Stott, Jack Quarton, Joanna Brown, John Holt-Roberts, Keshini Misha, Lewis Carroll, Mike Kenny, Neil Irish, Paula James, review, Sarah Brigham | posted in Review, Theatre Review
AN AUGUST BANK HOLIDAY LARK
New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Friday 7th February, 2014
No one can be unaware that it’s a hundred years since World War I broke out. We must prepare for a barrage of works that commemorate the start of hostilities. This early salvo comes from the formidable Northern Broadsides, in the form of a brand new piece by Deborah McAndrew. Rather than show us the horrors of the trenches, McAndrew keeps the action wholly within a small community of millworkers.
It’s Wakes Week, a welcome relief from the rigours of t’mill and the locals revert to a more pastoral kind of activity as they put flowers around their hats and practice their clog dancing. There’s a bit of a star-crossed love story as show-off Frank (Darren Kuppan) courts Mary (Emily Butterfield) behind her blustering father’s back. McAndrew gives us cheeky humour too as dopey Herbert (Mark Thomas) asks an older man to have a look at ‘it’ for him – before revealing it’s a banner he has painted for the festival. The script is peppered with detail, giving us a glimpse into a way of life that has all but disappeared, a way of life that the Great War did much to help eradicate.
The dancing is a joyful spectacle, choreographed by Conrad Nelson. There is the building of a ‘rushcart’ that is akin to an Amish barn-raising. The male actors give off energy that is infectious, while the female actors play the music. As a dramatic device it gives focus to the story, while the recruiting and the fighting all takes place off-stage. McAndrew uses recurring motifs – lines of dialogue, symbols – to wrap her storytelling in a neat package with maximum emotional impact.
The cast is a fine one. Ben Burman’s William is good-natured if a bit dim compared to poetic brother Edward (Jack Quarton) – both establish themselves in our hearts before they ‘take the shilling’. Elizabeth Eves is strong as hard-working matriarch Alice Armitage and Lauryn Redding is notable as Susie Hughes, a local girl embittered by the impact of the war on her love-life.
Director Barrie Rutter is also mardy patriarch and windbag John Farrar, given to bluster and sarcasm. He is also party to one of the play’s most moving scenes, punctured by the turn of events. Emily Butterfield is also superb when bad news strikes her like a lightning bolt – Of course, in a story about young men going off to war, you know it’s inevitable that sooner or later someone is going to (sorry) pop their clogs. Here it is handled beautifully and there is a final punch in the gut, theatrically speaking, to remind us that we ought to be remembering those who were lost, willingly and wholeheartedly.
Leave a comment | tags: An August Bank Holiday Lark, Barrie Rutter, Ben Burman, Darren Kuppan, Deborah McAndrew, Elizabeth Eves, Emily Butterworth, Jack Quarton, Lauryn Redding, Mark Thomas, New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Northern Broadsides, review, theatre review | posted in Theatre Review