Thursday, January 18, 2018

ALICE IN WONDERLAND - Canberra Theatre

Adapted and Directed by Penny Farrow- Set designed by Zachary Lieberman - Costumes designed by Zachary Lieberman and Ethan Walker - Lighting Designed by Sam Gibb - Presented by Rapidfire International and M2 Productions.
Canberra Theatre, 14th January 2018.

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Alice (Georgina Walker) at the Mad Hatters Tea Party. 

“It wasn’t what I expected” a perplexed mum was overheard saying to her brood as they left the theatre. Not necessarily a criticism, but what was she expecting?

Perhaps she was expecting a pantomime. This production was certainly not a pantomime. Instead, a play presenting a rather scholarly, visually impressive, realisation of excerpts from several of Lewis Carroll’s writings, including “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, “Alice through the Looking Glass”, “The Hunting of the Snark” and “Rhyme? And Reason? “.

Alice (Georgina Walker) with The Queen of Hearts (Simon Burke-Holmes)

Perhaps the fact that the Queen of Hearts was played by a male actor, (Simon Burke-Holmes), and the Mad Hatter was played by a female actor (Karen Krone), may have caused some confusion. As both are veteran actors who played their roles straight, without resorting to pantomime-style audience interaction, perhaps the casting should have been reversed.

Alice (Georgina Walker) with The Mad Hatter (Karen Krone) 

Maybe, thanks to Walt Disney, she was expecting songs. There were no songs. However the sequences were narrated by the cast and linked with well-chosen incidental music which effectively set the tone and mood of each scene. The pretty, artfully-lit, setting with its giant mushrooms, and the clever costumes worn by each character, effectively conjured up the original John Tenniel illustrations.

The Caterpillar (Jackson McGovern) 

Nine hardworking actors played no fewer than 20 characters during the performance, which lasted exactly one hour.  All the favourite characters were there, including Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the Mad Hatter, The Queen of Hearts, The Door Mouse and a particularly impressive Caterpillar.
She may have expected the actors playing the puppet characters, particularly the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat, to have taken more care with their puppets, especially given that the amplified sound often made it difficult to work out which character was speaking.

Alice with Tweede Dum and Tweedle Dee 

She may also have expected more theatrical magic, given that one of the producers, Michael Boyd, is one of the country’s most accomplished illusionists. As it was, the direction was remarkably pedestrian. Most of the action was confined to the centre of the stage, and opportunities for special effects, especially Alice’s descent down the rabbit hole, were left to the imagination of the audience. It was unlikely that she would have expected Alice (Georgina Walker) to speak with an American accent.

However, whatever her expectations, she could not have failed to have been impressed by how attentively the large and predominantly young audience, listened to Lewis Carroll’s timeless words. Bursts of laughter indicated their delight in the word play, skewed logic and fantasy as they revelled in the timeless tales.

Whatever our perplexed mum’s expectations, it would have been interesting to hear the conversation in the car on the way home as she and her brood compared their “Alice in Wonderland” experience.  

This review also published in Australian Arts Review.