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Alice in Wonderland

by on 20 January 2019

An Inimitable Vision of Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

by Andrew O’Leary adapted by Jackie Howting from Lewis Carroll

Edmundian Players at Cheray Hall, Whitton until 26th January

A Review by Celia Bard

The Edmundian Players has chosen Alice in Wonderland as their pantomime this season. The script contains many of the characters that one is familiar with and loves including Alice, the Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. In this version of Alice, we are introduced to new characters, Jack (the gardener), Brandy, Sherry, Stella (friends of Alice), Ms Hackett, Cookie and the Drunken Archer. True to form the Edmundians has fashioned its own inimitable style producing a production that, though fun and incorporating many familiar pantomime elements, remains, in part, true to the spirit of Lewis Carroll.

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img_20190113_144207The show opens with a musical number involving many of the ensemble characters gathered in Wonderland and the Palace Gardens. This is an effective opening and sets the tone and pace of the production. The Queen of Hearts is quickly established as the protagonist to Alice, whom the Queen wants to kill in order to steal her precious watch, but for what reason the audience is kept in suspense until the second act. Our ‘cut down’, Queen, a little person with an enormous ego, is beautifully portrayed by Jessica Young (do so hope knees were well padded!). Played straight by Jessica but the absurdity of her appearance undermines her authority. Watch out for the parody of the Royal wave.

In the next scene we are introduced to Alice’s friends, Brandy, Sherry and Stella who live with Alice in the orphanage run by the suitably snarling henchwoman, Ms Hackett. Theresa McCulloch plays this role with great gusto culminating in a rousing performance of Diamonds are Forever. Alice then makes her introduction played by Mary McGrath, who is very close to Lewis Carroll’s Alice: caring and gentle, courteous and truthful, but not afraid to stand up to any ‘baddies’. Mary gives a very pleasing performance as Alice, pleasing to look at and to listen to, a young actor with good physicality and a tuneful voice.

 

img_20190113_161529~3The interaction between Alice and the wonderful hip-hop singing White Rabbit is lively and jokey. This character is far removed from Carroll’s vision, bringing in a very 21st century street culture. Paula Young relishes this role and gives a sustained ‘cutesy but matey’ performance. The Dame, beautifully played by Matt Ludbrook, makes a suitably grand entrance as Cookie, the cook, and manages to deliver many stock panto gags and jokes with a freshness and enthusiasm as if they had never been seen or heard before: a great feat. The mock slapstick striptease was a tour de force of timing and low humour. Ellen Walker and Becky Halden as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee certainly live up to one of their personality characteristics, seeing riddles in everything. The three of them succeed in performing the well-worn custard pies routine deftly, resulting in a genuinely funny laugh out loud moment.

img_20190113_160128~3We then enter the Hatter’s Tea Party scenes between Hatter (Matt Nicholas), March Hare (Clare Blake) and Dormouse (Evie Schaapveld). All three are deliciously delightful performers. Matt Nicholas is an actor with a great star quality presence, bringing the Hatter to life with aplomb. His timing is faultless, as also is his ability to interact with other performers. His rendering of A Very Unhappy Birthday to Me and A Nice Cup of Tea was delivered as if he were a great opera singer, which so suits Hatter’s personality. A disarming moment occurs when he lifts the dormouse out of the teapot. Here mention must be made of the scene stealing performance of young Evie who has remarkably sharp timing and stage awareness for someone so young. Throughout her scenes she acts and re-acts, so totally absorbed is she in her role and all that is going on around her. The trio is completed by the March Hare, played with great authenticity and enthusiasm by Clare Blake.

The grinning Cheshire Cat is artistically and cleverly acted by young Marie Blake, popping up and disappearing throughout the performance, totally in keeping with Carroll’s concept of this character. The Cat is the only character to speak in verse and Marie’s balletic, feline movement beautifully complements her characterisation.

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Jack, the Gardener, played by Lucy Blake, is a wholly pantomime stock character and here we part company with the Lewis Carroll story for Jack is introduced as a love interest for Alice. The stereotypical slapping of the thighs is restrained, but performed tongue-in-cheek, which goes down well with the audience. ‘His’ scenes with Alice are charming. Nick Garvey is well cast as the King, in every way an amusing contrast to the shrill, bossy, outrageous personality of his Queen. Bob King’s drunken archer scene is a delightful parody of the drunken sailor song.

Mention must be made of the musical director, Roger Swift. He is a musician who is totally sympathetic to the musical requirements of performers and production, and artistically makes full use of the numerous sound effects of his keyboard. The musical numbers selected are appropriate and integrate well in the scripts, sang with confidence and enthusiasm by the entire ensemble.

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The production under the skilled hands of the Director, Jackie Howting, flows easily. Nothing is laboured. It has a pleasing pace and extremely good use is made of the acting area supported by beautifully constructed and designed sets and colourful costumes, helping to transport the audience, along with Alice, into Wonderland. The Palace Gardens and Mushroom Glade sets are particularly imaginative in design.

Alice in Wonderland proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining production. Although it may not have been Lewis Carroll’s vision of Wonderland, it was just great to meet many of his anthropomorphic characters in an Edmundian Fairyland.

Celia Bard
January 2019

Photography by Juliette Wait

From → Pantomime, Reviews

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