Sunday, January 14, 2018

Alice in Wonderland - No 1 (Canberra Theatre Centre)

Alice in Wonderland, adapted by Penny Farrow from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with additional material from Alice Through the Looking-Glass and Rhyme? And Reason? by Lewis Carroll.

Produced by Rapidfire International Inc (USA) in association with Boyd Productions Pty Ltd (Melbourne)  on tour at Canberra Theatre Centre, January 14, 2018.

Director – Penny Farrow; Production Designer – Zachary Lieberman; Lighting Designer – Sam Gibb; Costume Designer – Zachary Lieberman; Puppets by Deiter Barry Creations.

Alice – Georgina Walker; White Rabbit – Jacqui McLaren; Queen of Hearts – Simon Burvill-Holmes; Mad Hatter – Karen Crone; March Hare – Liam Nunan; Dormouse/Caterpillar – Jackson McGovern; Tweedle Dum – Merlyn Tong; Tweedle Dee – Tamara Meade; Cheshire Cat – Simon Burvill-Holmes / Jackson McGovern.
Narrators – Ensemble

Reviewed by Frank McKone

This version of Alice in Wonderland is essentially straight theatre.  It has a Prologue, including parts of The Hunting of the Snark, as Alice falls asleep and begins to dream of tulgey woods and a white rabbit with a stop-watch; and ends with an Epilogue as she re-awakes – and yet still seems to see the same white rabbit hurrying away off-stage.

In Scene 1, miming very effectively creates Alice’s falling down the rabbit-hole, and her shrinking enough to use the tiny key in the tiny door into Wonderland, where characters are created in a combination of extraordinary costumes and puppet figures in

Scene 2 – Advice from a Caterpillar about who she thinks she really is.  (His hookah doesn’t produce smoke, and was probably a complete mystery to modern very much non-smoking Canberra children);
Scene 3 – Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, where Alice learns about language and logic;
Scene 4 – A Mad Tea Party, where logic simply doesn’t apply;
Scene 5 – A Rattle Battle, where Alice shows the Tweedles that fighting over inconsequential issues is unnecessary;
Scene 6 – A Game of Croquet, where the Queen of Hearts always wins and continually orders executions for losers and questioners, extending into
Scene 7 – Who Stole the Tarts?, where the rule of law means whatever the Queen thinks is ‘evidence’, even though Alice can see that no evidence is ever presented.

It’s just as well Alice wakes up at this point, considering where her logic might take her – presumably about Queen Victoria in the days of the author, who was really the mathematician and logician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (d.1898); while we have plenty of weird interpretations of ‘rule of law’ in modern times, even among elected prima donnas.

The characterisation of Alice by Georgina Walker was a key (not so tiny) to the success of this production.  She is a very skilful mover, not only literally as a dancer but as an upfront thinking Alice who won’t take nonsense for an answer – including making it perfectly clear that she is not afraid of the bully Queen, and tells it to her face.  Definitely a role model for the modern woman, but in fact for any of the children in the audience.  Not all of the nearly full theatre were old enough to follow all the intellectual argument (two in fact were made afraid by the hunting of the snark), but even the very young could not but be impressed by Alice’s determination.

The rest of the cast, of course, provided the platform and surroundings for Walker to perform on and bounce off, in costumes and a set design that made it all work.  The only quibble I have was with the use of microphones, though I recognise the difficult choice in a 1244 seat theatre.  Miking inevitably takes away the sense of direct communication with the actors, making it harder to feel empathy with the characters.

Walker and Simon Burvill-Holmes as the Queen were the most effective in making their voices rounded and more personal (and perhaps they had the best-scripted parts for doing this).  For children’s education in theatre – and after all that’s surely an important motivation in presenting Alice in Wonderland – their human connection with the people (and their characters) on stage needs to be enhanced.  I’m not sure that even modern technology can quite do the trick.

However I’m pleased to have seen this ‘straight’ approach to Lewis Carroll and the originality of incorporating the poems.  It will be interesting to see the other two productions showing this week, one in Canberra and one in Sydney, in comparison.

Georgina Walker, Liam Nuna, Jackson McGovern and Karen Crone as
L to R: Alice, March Hare, Dormouse and Mad Hatter in
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, adapted by Penny Farrow