This review was originally written for The Public Review.
Sometimes, producing a faithful adaptation may not be the best policy. It is especially challenging for the writer Simon Reade to adapt a book filled with a series of episodic scenes without a narrator. The action can get confusing quickly even for a well known book such as this. We are introduced to a tantrum-prone Alice having a tiff with her sister in their attic. A rabbit in a waistcoat suddenly bounds across the stage and Alice is transported into Wonderland and a room full of doors. After several shrinkings and growings and while meeting various strange characters, she gets through the door into the garden to continue her adventure.
After an engaging first fifteen minutes, the show begins to lose itself in a series of confusing and incoherent scenes. There is a lack of a sense of where the action is taking place since the backdrop remains the attic and this is not helped by the stuttering transition between scenes. Sometimes, narrative details are sacrificed for visual flair. A short section of aerial work and elements of physical theatre help to maintain interest for the younger audience. Good lighting designed by Arnim Friess helps create the right atmosphere for the content.
But sadly, this is offset by interjections and noises from various creatures which are essentially loud shouts and unpleasant noises. The grating screeches by the Cheshire Cat is a prime offender. The scene with the peppery Cook who periodically slams metal crockery onto the floor is disruptive and frankly annoying. Again, it may be faithful to the original characters, but there are better ways to stage them. The second half improves a little with a clearer storyline. Music by Martin Ward fits the production well. Though the insistence on maintaining some original material fails again as the sad song Beautiful Soup by the Mock Turtle feels like it belongs in a different show altogether. The unevenness extends to the absence of humour in consecutive scenes only to reappear later out of nowhere.
The acting itself is adequate and enthusiastic. Yet it is difficult to look past all the shouting which is the responsibility of Rosamunde Hutt the director rather than the actors. The singing does leave something to be desired, especially with the final song where there is a prominent mismatch within the cast of five.
It is difficult to weave all these fantastic characters together in a short space of time and make an impression. The production distinctly lacks the magic the characters are supposed to possess in abundance. Instead they are flattened into caricature. Not all bad, but much to improve.