By Ellis Koch
As a story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland surely needs no introduction. A classic tale written by Lewis Carroll and published in 1865 it more than withstands the test of time and has seen countless adaptations that include films, stage shows, animation and computer games. The rich source material has provided, and continues to provide, a wealth of inspiration to creatives all over the world. Like any classic book that is transitioned to other formats, the Alice stories have sometimes suffered from poor quality adaptations. The source material is full of colourful characters and memorable moments, nonsensical poetry and charming dialogue. It plays with logic, mathematics and language. It delves into madness and, oft times, carries a dark streak within its pages. It is so full of material ripe for adaptation that it is easy for anybody attempting the task to be utterly, completely and hopelessly lost in the process. It is not just the dense content one must capture to successfully adapt it but also the atmosphere. For the Alice stories are feverish, mad and bordering on nightmarish yet sit well within the classification of children’s fiction.
How wonderful, then, to discover that Penny Farrow’s script and direction are entirely up to the task and could quite possibly be one of the best adaptations of Carroll’s books by a longshot.
Alice in Wonderland is an hour length stage show that manages to capture the essence of Carroll’s work while including snippets from Alice Through The Looking Glass and The Hunting of the Snark. The main aspects of Alice’s journey through Wonderland are all included and, as writer, Farrow has done an excellent job in selecting what points to focus on without losing anything in the process. As director, her direction is superb and manages to elicit a blistering, razor sharp pace from the cast. Dialogue, whether poetry, prose or song, fires off constantly and helps build and maintain the feverish trajectory of Alice’s journey through a world of madness. For myself, well and truly acquainted with all of the material, I found this to be thrilling – for children, however, it may prove to be too quick to follow. This is hardly a problem though, as the visuals of the production are more than enough to hold their attention: the costumes, designed by Gayle MacGregor and Diana Eden, are absolutely gorgeous, the puppets are outstanding thanks to the superb design work of Chris Barlow and Deiter Barry and the lighting design by Jeremy Dehn elevates each scene in splendid fashion, working to accentuate the colour schemes of the costumes, isolating Alice from the other actors in key moments and really helping to create the surreal world of Wonderland. Set design, by producer Ethan Walker, is simple and effective – a slightly elevated, chequered disc makes up the centre of the stage and surrounding it are mushrooms of various sizes which later become the chairs and table for the Hatter’s Tea Party. The original illustrations of John Tenniel adorn the backdrop and side curtains and these create a layered depth for the stage.
All of the actors were sublime and in peak form with several of them playing multiple characters throughout the show. The cast recite, sing, operate puppets and execute flawless physical theatre while managing to keep up a breathless pace in their delivery. When not playing their main characters the actors are also portraying side characters – cards, doors, gardeners, Royal attendants and the like.
Éowyn Turner plays Alice and perhaps has the more difficult task of having to play the straight character in the face of so much strong, larger than life character work from all of the other actors. She manages to capture the right balance of properness, precociousness and stubbornness of the titular Alice while being entirely put out by the madness of the world around her. In one very excellent moment she mimes a bottle in her hand getting larger to give the impression that she is shrinking – a nice effect for capturing one of the more difficult staging aspects of Carroll’s tale.
Lucy Fox plays the White Rabbit – simpering, fastidious, haughty and full of nervous energy – condescending to Alice as her perceived superior yet adequately grovelling when in the presence of the Queen of Hearts.
Catherine Glavicic gives a wonderfully Australian delivery of the Mad Hatter, so much so one almost imagines the tea party takes place in the depths of Australian bushland. There is an edge to her performance that really highlights the unpredictable and somewhat frightening, dangerous madness of the Hatter while also maintaining a sweet sincerity.
Nicholas Jacquinot gives a delightful turn as the March Hare. Armed with cockney accent he portrays the Hare as somewhat of an old stage ham, affecting a well-educated, upper-class accent while delivering poetry and feigning wounded hurt at every interruption.
Jackson McGovern is splendid as the Caterpillar and Dormouse. His Caterpillar is disdainful yet desperate for attention and perhaps has the most gorgeous costume in the whole production, as well as the most gorgeous puppet after the metamorphosis into the butterfly. His Dormouse is as sweet as he is sleepy.
Matilda Simmons and Justine Anderson play Tweedledee and Tweedledum respectively and both deliver a wonderful performance as the man-child twins. The two play off of each other to absolutely nail a hilarious, very physical piece of comedic performance. Both capture the excitement, energy and exuberance of little boys as they indulge in their sword fight over the broken rattle. Justine Anderson in particular is an amazingly talented physical performer and her performance is one of the most outstanding amongst a superbly talented cast and it was truly a delight to watch her on stage.
Last but furthest from least, Simon Burvell-Holmes plays the Cheshire Cat and the Queen of Hearts – I believe he also plays the Dodo during the Caucus Race. Absolutely outstanding character work from Mr. Burvell-Holmes across all of the characters he played. His Queen of Hearts is devilishly maniacal and utterly unhinged, looming menacingly over everybody. He really captures the brutish, mad, spoiled royal in all of her glory leaving even the audience afraid for their heads. Another outstanding performance amidst an entire cast of outstanding performers.
Every part of this production is on fire and doesn’t miss a note. Each element works seamlessly with the other to create a feverish and thoroughly entertaining adaptation of Carroll’s source material. Superb lighting, costume, puppet and set design work together to capture the surreal world of Wonderland, excellent music composed by Evan Jolly helps carry the scene transitions and sublime choreography and every actor is an absolute delight to watch at every moment.
Writer/Director Penny Farrow and Executive Producer Ethan Walker have excelled in putting together this adaptation for Broadway Haus Inc. A truly superb and splendid delight to behold!