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Review of Alice A New Musical at St James Theatre

Alice a new MusicalIn 1865 Charles Lutwidge Dodgson published a story that he had made up to entertain some young friends while out rowing. Dodgson is better known under his nom de plume Lewis Carroll and the book was, of course ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Since then, there have been numerous adaptations of this enchanting story but none that has attempted to condense the whole story into only 45 minutes. Until the St James Studio presented “Alice, A New Musical” as part of their lunchtime theatre series.

Alice (Hanna Toy) a lonely girl, with no friends except her cat, is prone to dancing by herself in her bedroom and disturbing her mother who is distinctly unimpressed by her balletic movements. One day,after a particularly severe telling off, Alice suddenly finds herself transported to a strange new place with what looks like only one exit, an itty bitty tiny door. Here she meets the Cheshire Cat (Mateo Oxley) and embarks on an adventure the likes of which she has never even imagined, let alone dreamed of. Along the way she meets a whole host of weird and wonderful creatures including a permanently annoyed French mouse (Cerise Hine) – who is really not happy to hear about Alice’s pet at home – a rather manic time obsessed talking rabbit (Daniel Hope), and a (possibly mad) Hatter (Dougie Carter). She gets to take part in a Caucas-Race organised by a Dodo (Damian Robinson) and is insulted by a Caterpillar (Jamie Coleman) before finally meeting and playing a rather unfair game of croquet with The Queen of Hearts (Kerry Enright) who responds to virtually everything with her traditional greeting ‘Off With His Head!’

Writer/Director Paul Harnett and co-writer Rebecca Crookshank, have done a marvelous job of taking the original book and slimming the story down without losing any major parts of the narrative. All of the main characters are there and despite the 45 minutes running time, are able to firmly establish themselves and the fantasy world they inhabit which remains true to the original. However, this is not just a re-creation of Carroll’s book. It is darker and the characters themselves are very different. For example, the Cheshire Cat is a sexual creature in tight black trousers who seems very happy sashaying sensuously around the auditorium and rubbing himself on the floor when talking with Alice. As for Alice herself, dressed in an almost steampunk fashion, she is nowhere near as young, innocent and naive as the book portrays her and don’t expect pointed bunny ears from the White Rabbit who is as smartly dressed as you would expect for the Queen’s Herald. The various songs (by Daniel Williams and Jay Reynolds) fit well to keep the narrative moving and, in the case of ‘I Took His Head’ completely steal the scene. Overall, the staging worked really well. The pace was fast but never felt rushed and use of video projection meant that Alice could alter size on stage without needing to change sets all the time. Hanna Toy’ Alice was on stage pretty much the entire time and really did a fantastic job interacting with the various other characters coming at her from all sides. I’m also going to give a massive shout out – to match her voice – to Kerry Enright’s Queen of Hearts who totally dominated the stage even before she arrives at it. It would be possible to completely over-act this part, but Kerry kept The Queen’s madness under enough control that she was terrifying and entertaining at the same time.

I really love this idea of lunchtime plays and wish more theatres were doing them. Although it still feels a bit wrong sitting munching my ‘Meal Deal’ sandwiches watching a play, it totally works and this lovely performance of ‘Alice A New Musical” not only answered the age old question ‘can Dodos dance?’ but was also one of the finest ways to spend a lunchtime I know of.
4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Producer/Writer/Director: Paul Harnett
Producer: Oliver Taheri
Writer: Rebecca Crookshank
Music&Lyrics: Dan Williams/Jay Reynolds
Choreography: Sean Parkins
Assistant Director: Nikki Davis-Jones
Costume Designer: Katherine Connely
Costume Maker: Lizzie Furniss
Lighting Designer: Alex Musgrave
Assistant Lighting Designer: Sam Jauncey
Photography: Darren Bell

Alice A New Musical
From the 9th to the 21st March 2015
Performance start times vary at either 12.00 or 13:00
The show is a 45 minute version of the story and has been created as part of the series of lunchtime plays for office workers, families and tourists in the local area to enjoy.


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