Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll, adapted by Glyn Maxwell
Storyhouse, Chester

Alex Mugnaioni as The Mad Hatter, Rebecca Birch as Alice and Tom Connor as Mad March Hare Credit: Mark McNulty

Chester’s stunning new theatre stages the second production of its new season with this adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

Initial impressions of this £37 million new theatre, library, cinema and arts centre are firstly of the wonderful design and secondly of the massive difference the building will make to the city and wider area.

It is a much-needed venue with limitless potential as the words of Artistic Director Alex Clifton indicate. Writing in the programme of how his adolescence was spent in the nearby Gateway Theatre and Chester Library, Clifton stresses the value of the arts for communities and the future and of the multitude of benefits an interest in the arts can bring.

Anyway, to matters in hand, “what’s the matter with the Hatter?” If ever a story was well suited to the opening season, then surely Alice in Wonderland is the one. Derek Bond, who directed last year’s outstanding Stig of the Dump in Grosvenor Park, has brought Glyn Maxwell’s innovative adaptation to the stage and presented an Alice on the horns of a dilemma about growing up; curious about the adult world yet still wishing to remain a child.

The imagination of childhood runs wild as her fears about attending school see her split into two, the younger version, Rebecca Birch’s vibrant Alice, follows the White Rabbit into Wonderland, while Anna Leong Brophy’s staider Alicia remains in adult land.

Many of the traditional characters drift across the stage in a novel approach to the story where Alice’s fears about school are brought to life through the characters such as the flowers as a mean gang of girls and the science-teaching Caterpillar.

The cast assembled by Storyhouse is as strong as ever with a number, such as Charlotte Miranda-Smith, Daniel Goode and Tom Connor, making welcome returns. As Alice travels through Wonderland, we see some hugely enjoyable theatre, such as the courtroom scene and a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party that seems particularly manic and is hosted by Alex Mugnaioni, a Hatter who is deliciously deranged.

This is a production that will delight all who see it and will be particularly suited to the outdoor season when it transfers to Grosvenor Park. Derek Bond has stated that it would be wrong to have two versions, one for the indoor stage and for the Park, as people may be tempted to compare them, which is a valid point.

The set design of Jess Curtis is certainly transferable with clever use of the letters of Wonderland and there’s no doubt that future productions will make full use of the building’s potential.

Alice in Wonderland is an enchanting production that builds on the dreams of children and those who remain children at heart.

Reviewer: Dave Jennings

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