Alice in Wonderland

Nick Lane, based on the novel by Lewis Carroll; music and lyrics by Simon Slater
Stephen Joseph Theatre
Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Josie Dunn (Mad Hatter), Elliott Rennie (White Rabbit), Ebony Jonelle (Alice) and Robert Jackson (Cheshire Cat) Credit: Tony Bartholomew
Robert Jackson (Seven), Elliott Rennie (Two), Josie Dunn (Five) and Loren O’Dair (Duchess) Credit: Tony Bartholomew
Josie Dunn (Mad Hatter) and Ebony Jonelle (Alice) Credit: Tony Bartholomew

Alice in Wonderland is surely one of the most iconic children’s novels of all time. How many other books have produced such a colourful gallery of extraordinary characters? Not just Alice herself (with her bow and apron), but also the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the wise Caterpillar and many more besides.

If you’re looking for a straightforward adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s evergreen classic then you may be disappointed by Nick Lane’s unofficial sequel. However, if you’re open to the idea of a new Alice story then you will find much to enjoy in this production.

Set years after the events of the original novel—in which Alice chased a white rabbit down a hole and entered the magical kingdom of Wonderland—our now grown-up heroine (Ebony Jonelle) is the single mother of two youngsters, shopping in Boyes on Christmas Eve for last-minute provisions.

After being knocked unconscious, Alice is transported back to Wonderland where she meets up with some old friends and former enemies. Freed from the tyranny of the Red Queen, the citizens of Wonderland are now under the thrall of her wicked sister, the Duchess (Loren O’Dair), and Alice must defeat her if she is to be reunited with her children.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about this production. By framing the show as Alice’s return to Wonderland, there is a strong sense of déjà vu, meaning that this sequel lacks the sense of wonder a traditional retelling of the original story might have had.

The show’s plotting is convoluted in places, and at times I found my attention wandering slightly. Several comic sequences outstay their welcome and others are close to being funny but require further development.

While some of Nick Lane’s innovations pay off, others do not. For example, I enjoyed his reimagining of the White Rabbit as a Gallic fashion designer, but his decision to model the Cheshire Cat on a cheesy game show host from the 1970s did nothing for me.

I was also less than impressed by Simon Slater’s songs, which are mostly repetitive and unmemorable.

However, the production is saved by the quality of the ensemble acting. Ebony Jonelle makes a likeable and strong heroine, and she manages to keep us on board amidst the escalating lunacy of the plot.

The other four performers play all the remaining characters with great energy and confidence. Loren O’Dair is strikingly good as the evil Duchess, her brand of villainy putting me in mind of Missy in Doctor Who. Elliott Rennie is highly entertaining as the White Rabbit and the thickest of all the playing cards. Josie Dunn and Robert Jackson are both great value as the bickering twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

It’s a difficult task to recreate Wonderland in-the-round, but Helen Coyston’s fantastic costumes help to create a sense of the magical and otherworldly. There are also some marvellous props, not least the fearsome Jubjub bird which makes a memorable appearance towards the end.

Despite my reservations about the show, it’s important to state that the young children in the audience appeared to be totally absorbed by Paul Robinson’s fast-paced production.

Reviewer: James Ballands

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