Billed as a “spectacular Easter treat for young and old”, Russ Tunney’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland at the Nuffield Theatre certainly delivers on its promise, though anyone going to see this exceptional production expecting to see a Disney-style children’s show would perhaps be a little bemused.
Based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass ,this show is an intelligent, challenging piece of theatre which delights in the nonsense of the original books and provides rich, visual stimulation for young theatre goers.
Certainly the children in the audience at the opening night sat wide-eyed and spellbound by the visually stunning and brilliantly realised performances. The familiar set-pieces – the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the croquet match, the trial of the Knave of Hearts among them – were all vividly brought to life. The sets and costumes cleverly and humorously designed by Helen Stewart capturies the joy and madness of the original Tenniel illustrations. Not an inch of stage or a single opportunity was wasted, to create the vivid imagery and sense of wonder that has amazed and enthralled children since the novels were first published nearly 150 years ago.
The five-strong cast – who work hard in multiple roles – are all superb, and supported by a talented and disciplined band of young performers variously as playing cards, chess pieces and other inhabitants of this strange world. Anne-Marie Piazza as Alice was the lone voice of reason, with Kieran Buckeridge (as the Mad Hatter and the Duchess amongst others), Simon Lipkin (March Hare and the King of Hearts), Michele Moran (Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat) and Matthew Woodyatt (White Rabbit and Dormouse) providing the madness around her. All deliver perfectly drawn characters, exaggerated but never descending into pantomime.
Musical director Richard Reeday and composer Matt Baker provide an imaginative score and musical backdrop which complementes and enhances the text. With the choreography (by Simon Lipkin), many of the more impossible vignettes were effectively translated into musical numbers – the Walrus and the Carpenter being an outstanding example. The Mad Hatter’s tea party, in particular, is sublime and just one of many scenes where the comic and vocal talents of the entire cast shone through the absurdity of the text.
Children have the enviable quality of being able to accept and enjoy what is presented to them without needing to rationalise or make sense of it all. As an adult, I struggled with my “need” to understand what was going on for quite a while, before surrendering to the absurdity of it all. Once I did however, I found the show enchanting, inspiring and brilliantly conceived.
Packed full of colourful characters, and witty songs, there is enough to entertain even the most demanding child, with comedy and Carroll’s hidden truisms giving the adults plenty to enjoy too. Nonsense, yes. But brilliant nonsense! Not to be missed!