You’d think that nearly 160 years since Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and after countless stage productions and film and television adaptations that it would be nigh on impossible to come up with something fresh and innovative based on the book but if you like me thought that, then you’d be wrong because production company Poltergeists’ making of Alice In Wonderland has proved me and hopefully you, totally wrong.
Two years in the making with numerous workshops and collaborations, Poltergeist with lead writer and Director Jack Bradfield have come up with a delightful confection at one of London’s newest and most exciting cultural spaces, Brixton House. This is almost a site-specific piece as it’s set in a train in Brixton underground station which is just five minutes’ walk away from the theatre. Alice In Wonderland tells the story (no spoiler alert – everyone knows the story – don’t they?) of Alice, an 11-year-old local girl who’s suffering the existential angst that all girls (and boys too) suffer as they enter puberty. She’s having problems at school and she ‘hates’ her mum who’s a single mother and is having problems of her own bringing up a feisty young girl. They’re having an argument on a train as they get separated and Alice falls into a metaphorical hole before setting off on an adventure in a parallel world that she has no idea how she got there.
Along the way like all conventional tellings of the story, she meets a white rabbit, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, a Queen, a turtle and goes to a tea party. However, in this unconventional telling, Tweedledum and Tweedledee are a football-playing couple called Dom and Dee, the turtle is a morose and lost tortoise and at the tea party are a rat, a pigeon and a runny nose – some of the scary things we all try to avoid whilst travelling on the tube. There’s also a Mad Hatter although in this case, she’s called Chatter and drives the train.
This is a wonderful production where all the elements come together perfectly. Jack Bradfield has done a wonderful job directing the cast of 5, 4 of whom play numerous roles. There’s a lot going on throughout the show and Bradfield has directed with a deft hand letting the pace never flag apart from when it needs to slow down a little to get a message across.
Shankho Chaudhuri’s set design is terrific. He utilizes the traverse stage to turn it into a tube train with benches that indicate seats along with signage above the audience’s heads. There are also tunnel entrances at each end and you get the feeling that you’re underground and excellent use of the underground logo. Alice Boyd’s sound design is never obtrusive but adds another wonderful layer to the production. There’s music and sound effects – subtle when they need to be but loud and powerful when the narrative demands it. Like the sound design, Rajiv Pattani’s lighting design adds another wonderful layer to the production. Once again there’s innovation with lighting using LED strips in the ceiling of the tube train that indicates unseen characters speaking or the train moving or sometimes the emotions of the characters. He even makes the unseen Jabberwocky scary with just two simple lights.
As for the diverse cast, they are all wonderful. Nkhanise Phiri (who isn’t 11), is wonderful as the 11-year-old Alice going through the emotions whilst trying to navigate herself through the maelstrom of the strange world she finds herself in. Toyin Ayedun-Alase is perfect in the roles of Mum, Chatter and The Queen Of The Line giving each part its own distinct characteristics. Khai Shaw, Rosa Garland and Will Spence make up the rest of the tight-knit cast playing various characters with humour and wit, and when it’s needed, great pathos.
This is a wonderfully produced Alice In Wonderland that’s underpinned by some top-class writing. There are some superb (albeit sometimes purposely cheesy) puns on tube station names and the various different lines. There’s also the odd message or two slipped in about avoiding becoming a “commuter”, not speaking on the tube and breaking the loop of a monotonous life. It’s also a bit meta as Alice keeps referring to the book she’s reading – ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland‘ of course which the other characters dismiss as not being of the “real” world. There’s also some excellent rap music that brings Alice and her Mum together as her journey comes to an end.
Alice In Wonderland is the perfect antidote to the clichéd, hackneyed and often crude pantos that proliferate around this time of the year. This is a proper family show for everyone whatever their age and Poltergeist and Brixton House should be cheered to the rafters for having the courage to take a tale as old as time and make it fresh and relevant to our times.
Review by Alan Fitter
After an explosive argument with Mum on a Victoria line station, eleven-year-old Alice leaps onto the tube seconds before the doors hiss shut.
Trapped on a train speeding into Nonsense, surrounded by weird and wonderful passengers, and at the mercy of a Queen who won’t relinquish the controls, can Alice turn this train around?
Multi-award-winning company Poltergeist weaves rap music together with the sights and sounds of Brixton into a hundred-mile-an-hour Christmas adventure. This alternative family Christmas show is created by Poltergeist.
Alice – Nkhanise Phiri
Queen of the Line, Chatter, Mum – Toyin Ayedun-Alase
Rabbit, Pigeon, Hammersmith – Khai Shaw
Tortoise, Dum, Rat, District – Rosa Garland
Cat, Dee, Nose, Circle – Will Spence
Director and Lead Writer – Jack Bradfield
Composer and Sound Designer – Alice Boyd
Set and Co-Graphic Designer – Shankho Chaudhuri
Costume Designer – Debbie Duru
Producer for Poltergeist – Emily Davis
Lyricist and Rapperturg – Gerel Falconer
Production Manager – Ethan Hudson
Illustrator and Co-Graphic Designer – Israel Kujore
Lighting Designer – Rajiv Pattani
Company Stage Manager – Chloe Ashley
Deputy Stage Manager – Chloe Astleford
Assistant Stage Manager – Gracie Adlington
Costume Supervisor – Isobel Pellow
Fight Director – Rebecca Wilson
Fight Director – Lucy Wordsworth
LX Programmer – Gareth Weaver
BSL Interpreter – Rachel Jones
Dance Captain – Khai Shaw
Devised by Poltergeist
Supported by NDT Broadgate
Alice in Wonderland
1 December-31 December
Multi-award-winning company Poltergeist weave rap music together with the sights and sounds of Brixton into a hundred-mile-an-hour Christmas adventure.
A Brixton House and Poltergeist Production. Directed by Jack Bradfield. Created by Poltergeist.