Every time I see a new interpretation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland I think to myself; This is it, surely there can’t be any more, we’ve finally come to the end of the road. Every time I am proved wrong, and almost every time I am pleasantly surprised.
The Rose Theatre’s production of Alice In Winterland is no exception. Ciaran McConville’s take on the classic tale is a festive, musical winter warmer. Essentially he has taken both of Carroll’s Alice books, the Tim Burton film version, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the Neverending Story and thrown them all in a blender, adding a little wartime tragedy for relish. And some songs, by Eamonn O’Dwyer. Oh, and a few penguins. Because it’s winter.
Although this mixture may sound contrived, and even sickly, the final result isn’t – it actually really, really works. After a tear-jerking initial montage worthy of Disney’s Up, the story gets on its way with gusto, heart and action-aplenty. Time in Winterland has stopped at two minutes to four on Christmas Eve, which also happens to be the Queen of Hearts’ birthday. This means it’s never tea-time, it’s never Christmas and it’s always time to celebrate the tyrant’s special day.
Horrors. Legend has it that only Alice can save the inhabitants of Winterland from this perpetually frozen torment – but she’s just a young girl. What can she do? Well, quite a lot as it turns out. An all-singing, all dancing adventure ensues, through Wonderland, through the Looking Glass and beyond. Along the way we meet many of the old
favourites: the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar, the White Rabbit, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Knave of Hearts, the Duchess, the Dodo, a flamingo (“flamingos have rights too you know!”) and chess pieces and playing cards a-plenty.
While some of the madness has been curbed and the language simplified – after all, this is a show for ages five and up – there is still lots of chaos and most of the jokes manage to work for both adults and children.
The impressive set is almost entirely made up of a staircase and beautiful, colourful, wonderfully inventive projections. This means that fixed scenery is kept to a minimum and set changes are blissfully short. Such props as there are, like a magic table and various differently sized doors are fun. They are expertly managed by a team of black-clad stagehands who deserve special mention for the fact that they are almost always on stage, they play several parts, they always manage to stay in character even when doing nothing at all and they manipulate the various people and puppets with great artistry.
Ah yes, the puppets. Without giving away too much, they range from the very tiny to the very, very big, and they are brilliant. My personal favourite has to be the frumious, Falcor-esque Bandersnatch – “he’s actually quite cute” said the small child behind me, accurately.
The Rose Youth Theatre cast is always extremely impressive. In this production, the children are aided by a few adults, all playing multiple roles. The Mad Hatter is played by the deliciously loopy Dan Goode, Amanda Gordon is a slinky Cheshire Cat, Jonathan Andrew Hume an increasingly frustrated Knave and Tony Timberlake the befuddled white Knight. Susannah Van Den Berg is on barn-storming comic form as the homicidal Queen. However, as always, the children ran away with the show. On press night we had the Blue Team, and although they were all excellent some performers really stood out. Madeline Lynes was our Alice, giving a believable, entertaining and moving performance the brave girl fighting not only for Winterland but for her family. Rhea Norwood was a disturbingly disturbed March Hare, and Jack Bartlett a dignified Dodo. Billy Rilot and Millie Brownhill were shameless scene-stealers as Tweedledum and Tweedledee respectively. Emily Porter was an adorable Dormouse, somehow managing to remain perfectly poised despite the many indignities heaped upon her. All of the children could act, dance and sing – the ultimate triple threat!
Once again, and I feel that I am constantly having to write this, the children were let down by the technical aspect of things. It is hard to give a brilliant performance when one is barely lit or one’s microphone only comes on halfway through a sentence or fails altogether, and it is to the children’s eternal credit that they had the professionalism and the talent to pull it off despite these drawbacks.
Of course, all good children’s stories these days must have a message, and Alice in Winterland is no exception. This particular moral – “If not me, then who?” – is not only less trite than many others in the genre, but also very valid. In increasingly troubled times, the concept of personal responsibility is very important and often overlooked. A play that can communicate this idea to children whilst also being remarkably entertaining for all ages can only be described as a triumph. A family must-see.
Review by Terry Eastham
Written by Lewis Carroll | Adapted and directed by Ciaran McConville | Music & lyrics by Eamonn O’Dwyer
Follow Alice down the rabbit hole and discover a magical world of wonders in this spectacular new stage adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s timeless books, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Featuring gorgeous music and strikingly imaginative designs, puppetry and projections, Alice in Winterland is brought to life on the Rose stage by a talented cast of over 30 actors.
Alice has been brought up to believe in wonder, but life takes an unexpected turn when she is sent to live with her stern auntie… until she is visited by a White Rabbit who propels her on a quest to save Winterland, a magical world of ice and imagination, of mad hatters and cruel queens. A frozen world inhabited by the mysterious Bandersnatch and the terrible Jabberwock, where only the bravest of girls can make the impossible seem possible…
The production features professional actors alongside members of the Rose Youth Theatre.
Jonathan Andrew Hume – Blue Caterpillar/Knave
Susanna Van Den Berg – Aunt Margaret/Queen of Hearts
Tony Timberlake – White Knight/Dodgson
Amanda Gordon – Cheshire Cat/Mother
Daniel Goode – Father/Mad Hatter
Alice in Winterland
Running time: Approx 2 hours including interval.
Thu 7 Dec 2017 – Sun 7 Jan 2018