Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll, adapted by Mike Kenny

Derby Theatre

Derby Theatre

From 02 December 2016 to 07 January 2017

Review by Steve Orme

Derby Theatre and Mike Kenny have had a profitable relationship over the past few years. The writer named in the Independent on Sunday’s list of top ten living playwrights adapted Homer’s The Odyssey for the venue in 2014, Siobhan Dowd’s Solace of the Road and Cinderella in 2015 and has two shows running over the 2016 festive period, Alice in Wonderland and Jack.

Alice in Wonderland could possibly be the best of the lot. Kenny has taken the mood of literary nonsense which characterises Lewis Carroll’s book and infused it into the play. The result is a crazy, surreal evening’s entertainment which might not have as many laughs as the panto version of Alice but which leaves a joyous feeling at the end.

The evening starts with Alice not sitting bored on a riverbank as she is in Carroll’s original but getting stressed about a school exam. The pressure mounts as everyone tells her how important the day is.

The beginning seems to go on slightly too long, with everyone periodically chanting at Alice “books, pen, pencil case, calculator” before she sets off on a bizarre adventure.

There are some clever touches in Sarah Brigham’s production, the first of which is Alice’s descent down the rabbit hole. Abby Wain, skilled in aerial silk work, gyrates impressively into a strange world where her shrinking size is brought to life by smaller, similarly dressed members of the theatre’s young company.

Wain gives a stylish performance, looking the part of a young girl while at the same time showing the maturity to pull off the demands of this lead role.

The other eight senior members of the cast are given the chance to show their acting and musical prowess in this outrageous environment in which a caterpillar turns into a cat and a baby becomes a pig. Joanna Brown as the Queen of Hearts is peculiarly eccentric, deliciously delivering “off with his/her head” at every opportunity while Paula James and John Holt Roberts impress as punk rockers Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

Kenny retains the intrinsic parts of the story such as the tea party with the March Hare, the Mad Hatter and Dormouse and the Queen’s game of croquet with flamingos used as mallets and hedgehogs for balls.

Brigham, who has worked with Kenny before, directs with her usual imagination and flair while Neil Irish’s set and costumes are especially lavish.

Music forms an integral part of the production and composer Ivan Stott appears to have enjoyed himself immensely when coming up with new songs. One about a baby wailing “wah wah wah” at the end of the first half had many people singing it as they went for their interval refreshments.

Stott also livens up “The Mock Turtle’s Song”, the one which starts “Will you walk a little faster said a whiting to a snail”, and gives it a modern, rocky feel.

This new version of Alice in Wonderland is quite bonkers—but rather good. I imagine Lewis Carroll would approve of it.