ALICE IN WONDERLAND
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 4th December, 2018
Director James David Knapp brings his own adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic to the stage in this ponderous production. This is an Alice who wonders about things rather than at them, as she is presented with riddles and cod philosophies from almost all the strange characters she encounters.
Ruth Waterson, making her Crescent debut, gives an assured performance as Alice, playing her as a serious, thoughtful child. She comes to life when she joins in with the other characters: the caucus race, for example, and the Lobster Quadrille. If Alice, our guide through this weird land, is so serious, the characters she encounters should be weirder, crazier, but they’re a bit po-faced too.
There is a lot to enjoy from the large cast. Marcus Clarke’s Dodo shakes his tail-feathers and has a mad spark in his eye; later, his King of Hearts is delightfully dotty – he could do with a crown, though. Erin Hooton’s twitchy White Rabbit, John Paul Conway’s snooty Knave, Niall Higgins’s Mock Turtle… Standing out is Molly Wood’s Duchess, a bedraggled eccentric, convincingly bonkers. Jordan Bird’s Mad Hatter makes an arch, camp double act with Carl Foster’s March Hare, along with a fearsome French Dormouse (Ella-Louise McMullan) keeping them in check. There is a delicious portrayal of the mad Queen of Hearts by Alice Macklin, capricious, volatile, tyrannical, truly psychopathic, and bringing a lot of oomph to the second act. But I think I enjoy most of all the trio of gorblimey gardeners, played by Amelia Hall, William Stait and Ronnie Kelly.
James David Knapp provides a new twist in the tale. It’s not easy bringing Carroll’s plotless novel to the stage to make a coherent piece, but Knapp provides a through-line – the material is on his side, with the disclaimer that not everything has to make sense. He has clearly drilled his ensemble of children very well – every one of them is in step and focussed, which is no mean feat.
The costume department has excelled itself. The designs of Dyjak Malgorzata combine what we expect of the characters with some innovative ideas, with the assistance of Vera Dean and Pat Brown to craft these wonderful creations.
The show works best during its absurd moments, rather than when Alice is being exhorted from all corners to ‘grow up’ – when she is clearly the most mature character on stage. The production values, the talent, the ideas are all there. All it needs, overall, is to lighten up, to – as Alice’s draconian mother is reminded to do – let its hair down.