Note: This review dates from November 2001 and the production's original London run.
The programme tries to explain 'How it Happened' thus: "A cloudless, golden July afternoon. One moment Alice was enjoying a picnic on the riverbank with her sisters, the next she was falling down a rabbit hole. Down, and down, and down, and...."
My own account, however, would have it as follows: "A crisp, dark November evening. One moment Mark was enjoying a pre-show chat in the Barbican Theatre with his fellow critics, the next he was falling down into a vacuum of drama. Down, and down, and down, and..."
The first show of the festive season (and hasn't it arrived early this year?) lands with a deep, dull, earnest thud. The RSC's new dramatisation of Lewis Carroll's two Alice books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and what Alice Found There (1871), emerges as part panto, part musical, but altogether a fiasco.
It's a catastrophic example of the kind of theatre that is designed to appeal to both children and adults, but actually ends up appealing to neither, I fear. Kids will be perplexed; adults bored.
Adrian Mitchell's plodding, episodic script rounds up all the familiar characters - the White Rabbit and Dodo, the Cheshire Cat and Humpty Dumpty - and all the major set pieces, like the Queen of Hearts' croquet match and the Mad Hatter's Tea Party. But it recreates them on stage with negligible charm or enchantment. Meanwhile, the ghastly songs of Terry Davies and Stephen Warbeck (the latter of whom was also responsible for the music for the National's worst show of last year, The Villains' Opera), interrupt the action and take it nowhere.
What little magic is provided comes from the inventive costumes and sets of Peter McKintosh, which are, at least, a visual distraction from the lumpen dramatic saga. The director, Rachel Kavanaugh, is charged with the impossible task of trying to bring this mess to life and give it some shape. She manages to make a busy spectacle, but cannot otherwise disguise an evening that leaves you feeling down.
- Mark Shenton