I thought I knew where I was going! We headed confidently towards the Open Air Theatre in Holland Park only to be sent back to the Yukka Lawn, where this delightful family-friendly opera is being performed. Guides in Victorian costumes direct you to the starting point, the Grimthorpe pet shop, where Alice arrives with her family and meets the White Rabbit. The Rabbit persuades Alice to release him from his cage; she is puzzled, as he can speak but cannot open the door himself. “Slow evolution”, he explains, “no opposable thumbs”. Alice follows him away to Wonderland, where she meets up with Humpty Dumpty, and her siblings, who have been transformed into Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
We then all move (the audience, as well as the performers) to the next location, where we meet my favourite character, a hookah smoking caterpillar who sings “Wonderland Blues” with Alice. Next, we move on to the Mad Hatter’s tea party, where the evil Red Queen appears and arrests the Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse for taking a tea break. As she arrives, even the trees are seen to shake with fear! “Off with their heads” sings the Queen, with just the right level of terror for the young audience. Maud Millar’s wonderfully scatty Duchess arrives and sings a fantastic aria about just about everything beginning with H before she remembers she is looking for the Hatter and they head off to find the prisoners.
The prisoners have been put to work in the Queen’s kitchen making tarts for no pay and they stage a revolution and decide to cut off her head. They are dissuaded by the Caterpillar, who convinces them that all the Queen needs is therapy and a nice cup of tea. We finish back at the pet shop with Alice’s family: was it all a dream? When Rabbit speaks to Alice, we know it was all true.
Opera is not normally aimed at children but this production gets it just right. The libretto by Maggie Gottlieb and score by Will Todd move swiftly through operetta, jazz, blues and musical theatre, providing something to appeal to all tastes. The action moves between four different settings, just as children’s attention begins to wane we are all up and off, following the cast to the next location. The orchestra must be admired as they have to pick up their instruments and run to the next location before resuming their playing. The actors speak directly to the younger members of the audience and make them feel part of the story. The adults are not excluded: there are some clever jokes included for their benefit.
The wonderful cast, especially Keel Watson as the Caterpillar, Maud Millar as the Duchess and Robert Burt as the Red Queen, make this a magical introduction to live music and opera. Prices are kept low, so whole families can afford to go. I thought that the whole production was excellent and I urge you not to miss an opportunity to see it.
Review by Sally Knipe
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a family opera by Will Todd Maggie Gottlieb, commissioned by Opera Holland Park. Taking place in the magical gardens of Holland Park.
Follow on Twitter: @aliceoperaohp @operahollandpk
Sunday 19th July 2015