Watermill Theatre - Alice in Wonderland
19th November 2015 to 3rd January 2016.
Review from Newbury Theatre.
Alice in Wonderland sounds like a great idea for a Christmas show – zany story, lots of colourful characters – but there is a fundamental problem with it: how do you appeal to all age ranges? Lewis Carroll’s book is clever and wordy, and the adaptation uses text from the book which, it seemed to me, went over the heads of the younger members of the audience. The concept of collective nouns (a murder of crows, for example) is rather too abstract for a six-year-old; I felt that eight upwards was perhaps the right age range.
Anyway, after rather a slow start, Alice falls down the hole and when she’s shrunk and grown a bit (effectively done, with giant flowers and the clever use of multiple doors on two levels) she starts to meet the inhabitants of Wonderland, starting with some rather fetching dodos. They came back to do the scene changes throughout the show, taking scenery on and off while playing the kazoo! We meet the caterpillar, the duchess and the cook, with Alice moving on to the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
After the interval, the action hotted up and my companion perked up. The Queen of Hearts wanted everyone’s heads cut off and after the mock turtle and the lobster quadrille, she got her come-uppance (with our help in the audience) in the courtroom.
The cast of just six actor-musicians seemed like a lot more – there must have been some furious costume changing behind the scenes – and they gave it their all. Josie Dunn was a feisty Alice and showed who was boss. Among the other characters, the dodos were delightful, the mock turtle was magnificent and Zara Ramm’s Queen of Hearts was quite horrid and gave us someone to boo.
Some good songs too, particularly The Caucus Race and The Lobster Quadrille, which had us all on our feet pretending to be lobsters.
Dominic said: I liked Alice because she’s really funny. The Mad Hatter’s tea party was good but the best bit was at the end when we blew the bad queen away – I liked it when she got angry and shouted. The trumpeter was funny in the trial. It was a cool show!
PAUL SHAVE AND DOMINIC SHAVE (age 6)
Review from The British Theatre Guide and the Newbury Weekly News.
'Off with their heads!' cries the Queen – it's all good fun in this family show
Celebrating the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Robin Belfield and Simon Slater have adapted this whimsical tale creating a magical, inventive family Christmas show at the Watermill.
Neil Irish’s innovative, colourful design with the four gigantic suits of cards and umpteen doors and cubbyholes is the ideal backdrop to this curious adventure tale.
Under Robin Belfield’s skilful direction, we start with Alice looking for a hiding place in a game of hide and seek with James who is desperate to be a magician. His solution to making one of the jam tarts disappear is simply to eat it.
Alice then comes across the very late White Rabbit. She falls down a deep rabbit hole chasing him and enters a very strange and mystical world. When she eats a tart, she grows taller and taller, but drinking from a bottle shrinks her down to the size of a mouse. I won’t spoil the effect but it’s theatrically very clever.
The highly talented cast of actor-musicians play a multitude of characters and instruments with a witty musical score by Simon Slater. Look out for the quirky Mock Turtle Soup song and the Lobster Quadrille.
The dancing Dodos are great fun, playing on kazoos as they change the scenery and getting wet from Alice’s tears.
Josie Dunn is particularly splendid as the curious, petulant Alice as she explores the underground kingdom and tries to make sense of what is happening to her.
A friendly hookah-smoking caterpillar (Alex Tomkins) gives some sound advice as Alice continues her journey.
Along the way, she meets the ever-grinning Cheshire cat (Oliver Izod) who by contrast plays a totally “mad” Mad Hatter. Alice attends the tea party with large cups and teapots suspended on sticks, where everything just gets more curious as she is asked to solve riddles — all great fun.
Ed Thorpe portrays a delightful Dormouse who is always falling asleep and also the White Rabbit who is forever rushing about — the youngsters in the audience certainly warmed to the characters.
The haughty Duchess (Polly Highton) just confuses Alice, particularly when she changes a baby into a pig — clever stuff.
Everyone lives in fear of the Queen of Hearts, a strong, villainous performance by Zara Ramm, whose catchphrase of “off with their heads” sends shivers down their spines.
When Alice finally gets to meet her, they play a game of croquet using exceedingly unusual mallets.
There is some great audience participation in the second act that delighted the audience who participated with enthusiasm.
Finally, Alice is put on trial for stealing the tarts, but will she escape from a dreadful end? You’ll have to go to find out.
Alice in Wonderland is the perfect seasonal start to the festive season.
There are reviews from The Reviews Hub ("the whole cast is fabulously talented... a charming show suitable for all ages" - 4.5 stars), The Stage ("eccentric characterisations make up for lack of special effects in this singularly distinctive version of Alice" - 3 stars), Daily Info ("adaptation offered so much to relish... enticing psychedelic world"), Gazette and Herald ("a top quality, delightful show, lovely for children and adults alike"), Alt Reading ("a faithful stage version that will charm audiences of all ages while making a refreshing change from the usual seasonal offerings of pantomimes").