Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll, adapted by Phil Porter
Royal & Derngate, Northampton
Royal Theatre Northampton
(2011)

Alice In Wonderland, Alice And Hatter, Royal and Derngate

It's always great to see the Royal and Derngate do something different at Christmas - traditionally the Derngate plays host to the celebrity panto and the Royal presents something more 'alternative'. In recent years the result has been a resounding success. Up until now that is.

There are many contributing factors that, for me, made this show a miss. The disjointed lack of a plot was a surprise with such a well known story. It felt at times that the quirkiness of Burton's recent film was too much of an influence—clouding the characters and story.

All the elements were in place here—directors Dani Parr and Lawrie Sansom have more than proved themselves. The cast included the strong Adam Baxter who worked so well as Mr Tumnus in last year's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And of course there is the great story. It is unfortunate then that this failed to reach the dizzy heights.

The design, for example, felt underwhelming and really lacked the magical 'wonder' that Alice is supposedly exploring. There was colour and some nice touches (Alice shrinking as the tiny door grew larger is one example). However, the set itself lacked the imaginative streak normally running through the in-house performances.

The characterisation had it’s moments. The Mad Hatter (Mark Mcgee) an attractive, 80’s boy band look-alike worked on the whole. As did the Queen of Hearts (Liza Sadovy) – whose strong voice and stage presence were clear thoughout. Yet, with all of the characters there was a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ feeling. You never really felt for the characters, especially Alice and so this affected the feeling that you wanted to get involved with the story.

There were other ways in which we were asked to be ‘involved’ in the production. You expect audience interaction in performances at this time of year. However, this device was completely over-relied on and became annoying rather than endearing. In fact, annoying is the word that comes to mind the most with this performance. I wonder why?

Perhaps it was the inappropriate X-Factor style whooping or laughing at not very funny jokes that annoyed me the most - certainly it didn't help the situation and gave the production a studenty, sixth form feel—as though I was an outsider sat amongst friends who knew something I didn’t. This ‘trying too hard’ on the supporter’s side didn’t work and in fact perhaps impeded the experience of those sat around.

It has to be mentioned that there were some ideas that did come off. The Flamingo scene (with stick puppets) worked nicely and perhaps could have been built on further. The synchronised swimming scene was simply staged but well executed and enjoyable to watch. However, this was coupled with moments that didn’t work—the Punch and Judy style scene just seemed out of place—an out of date gimmick that felt unnecessary.

And so it is with a heavy heart and great regret that I have to warn you off this one. I hope that this is a blip and that next year we will return to great storytelling and magical worlds for all to enter. This is the norm for the Royal at Christmas. Alice in Wonderland certainly isn’t.

Alice in Wonderland plays at Royal & Derngate, Northampton until Sunday 8th January 2012

Reviewer: John Johnson