Alice in Wonderland

Christopher Brookes after Lewis Carroll
Wise Owl Theatre Company
Winding Wheel, Chesterfield

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Jessie Underhill as Alice Credit: Tom Wren
Daisy Porter (tail of the caterpillar) and Chloe Thorpe (voice) Credit: Tom Wren
The Cheshire Cat Credit: Tom Wren
Daisy Porter (legs) and Adrian Palmer( March Hare) Credit: Tom Wren

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is credited with helping to change children's literature, with the writing aimed at delighting or entertaining children rather than teaching or preaching to them.

Christopher Brookes’s adaptation of one of the best-known works of Victorian literature sticks as much as possible to Carroll’s masterpiece. There is the odd alteration for staging purposes while it retains the fantasy element of a book classified in the nonsense genre.

Wise Owl’s presentation makes an ideal treat for youngsters during their half-term break. It’s capable of retaining the attention of fairly young children throughout its 70-minute running time. There are a few things to amuse older members of the audience too, including, “waiter, there’s a hare in my soup!”

This adaptation of Alice in Wonderland is a clever, inventive ensemble piece which allows all six actors their moment in the spotlight. They all enjoy taking on different characters which play to their strengths.

The production starts with Alice, a charming Jessie Underhill, escaping to her favourite place, the attic, where she can be whatever she wants to be. Instead of following a white rabbit down a rabbit hole, as occurs in the original, Alice falls through the bottom of a chest into a strange world.

The opening is drawn out but it doesn’t go on too long so that the youngest members of the audience lose interest.

In a short space of time, you forget that some of the characters are puppets, skilfully made by Liz Johnson and designed by Matthew Forbes, associate puppetry director on the National Theatre’s production of Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse.

The show really comes to life with the appearance of a caterpillar, delightfully portrayed by Chloe Thorpe whose voice is captivating.

Then four disconnected actors depict a giant Cheshire Cat, with David Martin at the head raising a laugh with his remark, “I’m not all there myself.”

Adrian Palmer relishes his role as Major March Hare, Danielle Williams enjoys bossing people around as the Queen of Hearts and Daisy Porter revels in her role as the White Rabbit.

Kevin Jenkins’s design is ingenious, the attic walls turning into the setting for the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the court of the King and Queen of Hearts and other quirky locations.

Add David Gilbrook’s music—a collection of jaunty tunes, the most memorable of which is “It’s Always Time For Tea”—and you have an enchanting show that keeps everyone engaged. Don’t take the Cheshire Cat’s word for it: you don’t have to be mad to enjoy this show.

Reviewer: Steve Orme

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