It may not much resemble the story from the original book, but I’d stake a large amount of money that Lewis Carroll would be cheering this version of his children’s classic as loudly as any of the Royal Theatre audience.
The reason is simple: Phil Porter’s smart, witty and extremely silly adaptation pays appropriate and affectionate tribute to the source material by capturing exactly the essence of its zaniness and illogicality, while simultaneously creating a piece of theatre that is fast, hugely entertaining and utterly hilarious.
He’s considerably aided in this objective by the two co-directors, Dani Parr and Laurie Sansom, in whose hands this wonderful slice of nonsense is endlessly inventive and tear-inducingly funny – and that applies as much for the grown-ups as for the children. So often Christmas shows claim to work on two levels, desperate to appeal to cynical adults alongside their offspring. With this production, the play hits both targets one in masterful stroke, and they lap it up.
There’s a multi-talented cast of nine, an extraordinary on-stage band that somehow makes three musicians sound like a full orchestra, and some stunning effects and designs from Sara Perks and her team that are constantly surprising and effective.
Mark McGee holds proceedings together magnificently as a smooth Mad Hatter with a suggestion of Johnny Depp, presenting a royal variety performance for Liza Sadovy’s joyously obnoxious Queen of Hearts. Alice herself becomes unwillingly inveigled into the performance and has to shed her “square” attitude by learning the important difference between silly and stupid before she’s allowed to return to the real world.
It’s a conceit that works brilliantly, and begins from the moment you enter the foyer, which has been transformed into the White Rabbit’s rabbithole and gets you in the mood from long before curtain-up.
In fairness, it needs a little time to warm up and bed in properly, but this is a truly magical show that takes the recent Christmas successes of the Royal and ratchets them up several levels. It’s a pretty safe prediction to suggest that you’ll have to go an awfully long way to find a production that’s got more heart, more fun and more sheer silliness to put you in the festive spirit.