Alice in Wonderland

Adapted by Tim Kane from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Little Angel Theatre
(2010)

Alice in Wonderland production photo

Alice in Wonderland ushers in the Little Angel Theatre's fiftieth year. Half a century of delivering puppet theatre, promoting the craft and nurturing the skills is no mean feat, and not least because Little Angel achieves so much without public revenue funding. Waiting for Alice to start I found myself in reflective mood and finding a touching, if insignificant, parallel: that for fifty years small children have been coming to this petite theatre space to be transported into new and entrancing worlds and here they have come to see the timeless story of a little girl who herself falls into a weird and magical wonderland.

This show is beautifully designed by Peter O'Rourke who also directs, and who is no stranger to the Little Angel having been the designer and director behind the delightful The Giraffe and The Pelly and Me. This show has also been adapted from the novel by Tim Kane, who did The Giraffe, and although in the interval I overheard an adult say that liberties had been taken with a classic text, I for one didn't mind the looseness of the interpretation at all. I have never taken to petulant Alice and apart from the obvious staging difficulties of rivers of tears and a massive character list, there is only so much nonsense that you can take in a single story if, like me, you have remained curiously resistant to the charms of Lewis Carroll's work.

My nine year old daughter who accompanied me may have inherited the so-to-speak 'no nonsense' gene as she rued the absence of a coherent storyline and said that the show needed a narrator. She gave it a scathingly low mark out of ten which I could understand but I found much redemption in other features. To start with the excellent music and lyrics by Ben Glasstone. The Cheshire Cat gets a terrific song about how mad everybody and everything is with a fabulous line about "all stations to Barking", and there is also a memorable singing Key, music to a ballet of dancing houses and the Drink Me bottle's rapping jingle.

Of the puppets the outstanding best is the Cheshire Cat (with a wonderful characterisation from Mandy Travis as well) but a lot of thoughtful design has gone into all of them, and skilful puppeteers Michael Fowkes, Seonaid Goody, Jonathan Storey and Mandy Travis work their magic with each. The more surreal transformations of Alice from tiny to giant-sized are accommodated by a mix of differently designed rod puppets and shadow work with the puppeteers themselves being silhouetted, a collection of techniques that wouldn't necessarily work well together in any setting but, in weird wonderland, doesn't jar and is very effective.

Those who remember the original story with tenderness will enjoy the visual creativity of the fantasy world even if they will not always recognise it, and most of the familiar characters are present and all carefully created. For the young it will not matter a jot that there is no Dodo or more importantly that it's not very rational - they will love the songs, the sprightly delivery and the visual inventiveness. It's not just Alice that goes to wonderland at the Little Angel.

"Alice in Wonderland" runs until 30 January 2011. No under fives admitted to any performance; for younger audiences of two to five years old "Hold on Mr Rabbit!" plays from 8 December to 30 January. See www.littleangeltheatre.com for full details.

Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti