Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll
Guildford Shakespeare Company
St Mary’s Church, Guildford Museum, The Castle Keep

Alicia Bennett as Alice Credit: Steve Porter
Christopher York as March Hare and Alex Scott Fairley as Mad Hatter
Trial of the Jam Tarts inside Guildford Castle

Expect the unexpected with the Guildford Shakespeare Company and you will still be surprised at what it manages to achieve. This "site specific" company is now not satisfied with only one venue and with this, its most ambitious project to date, it has chosen three.

Being the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice in Wonderland, this seems a good time to celebrate the work of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), especially as he was well connected with Guildford having lived here for a number of years. He was also known to have preached at St Mary’s Church, so this is the natural choice for the first venue.

As we take our seats, the Reverend Dodgson (Daniel Goode) takes his place in the pulpit and, as the ceremony begins, we notice that Alice herself is in the front row. Maybe the service proves a little boring, or maybe the hymn singing is a little soporific, but it’s not long before she dozes off and the Reverend disappears to be replaced by a very ebullient White Rabbit, (James Camp) and the adventure begins.

It’s not an easy task to represent the fall through a rabbit hole on stage, but this company is very inventive and creative and, with a little imagination, it seems very real. Once Alice has recovered herself, she leads us through a little door and, turning a corner, we come across the Hookah Caterpillar reclining languidly on a large leaf as he smokes.

The play is not scripted, but here the conversation keeps fairly close to the book, although we don’t get the ‘Old Father William’ poem but we did have a verse of that from the Reverend Dodgson (same actor—quick change).

Beautiful lighting by Declan Randall creates mystery and magic to entice around all the nooks and crevices of this beautiful old church as it reveals and colours the wood and stonework.

Next stop is Guildford Museum, a short walk up the road, with White Rabbit anxiously fussing around and making sure no one gets run over.

A Wonderland has been created inside the museum and all the well-loved characters are here. There is the Duchess sneezing over her baby, and everyone else, the Cheshire Cat appearing and disappearing mysteriously, while The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon are but a pale shadow of their former selves but come to life when voiced by Brian Blessed and Peter Gordon.

The highlight of this occasion is the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party with a fast-talking Alex Scott Fairley (and Christopher York as the March Hare) presiding over an enormous, comprehensively laid table. Suddenly a sleepy Dormouse pops out of the enormous teapot in the middle. This is Barney Cooper—previously the Cook. It's a very versatile company.

Alicia Bennett, who is with us all the way, makes Alice seem real, just as you would image her—a lovely enthusiastic performance.

Carroll’s book has enchanted children and adults for many years and Charlotte Conquest’s production brings the well-known story to life.

Playing cards light our way as we take one last journey up to The Castle Keep. It’s a bit of a challenge embarking on the last short very steep slope, but worth the effort, and if you feel in need of sustenance they serve a very good mulled wine at the Keep Pub.

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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