“Why sometimes I’ve believed six impossible things before breakfast!” writes Lewis Carroll in his fantasy Alice in Wonderland. But perhaps those impossible things don’t include the modern day stresses of being a teenager about to sit important and life changing exams. This central theme of teenage anxiety drives this terrifically fantastical Derby Theatre production of Alice In Wonderland. The show is cleverly adapted and made contemporary by Mike Kenny, directed by Sarah Brigham and the startling sound design is courtesy of Ivan Stott as well as his original songs and musical composition.
It gets ‘curiouser and curiouser’ as Alice (Abby Wain) falls down the rabbit hole. The fall is brilliantly conceived and actualised using a combination of aerial stunts by Wain herself and projections on the massive back wall that often appears as a zany school blackboard. Whilst being great colourful fun, and, as Carroll would say, ‘uncommon nonsense’ ; this production of Alice in Wonderland explores personal growth, self knowledge and a sense of direction in life for young Alice. Saying this, Mike Kenny’s adaptation is never preachy and Abby Wain’s performance as Alice is energetic and thoroughly engaging.
The show works on so many levels both in a compositional sense and very practically as the cast of talented actor musicians use the two level stage and revolves to great visual effect. The creative set and costume designs are by Neil Irish. Derby Theatre’s splendid family Christmas show, Alice in Wonderland, is a wonderful theatrical confection in which being totally bonkers is perfectly normal as long as there is tea, cake and missing jam tarts to fret about.
There are songs a plenty and Tweedledum (Paula James) and Tweedledee (John Holt Roberts) become two punk rockers but are still recognisable as the two real life bullies at the darker beginnings of the show. Such is the duality of many of the characters. During the interval a kind of musical magic descends on the audience members as most of them lose the power of normal speech and feel compelled to part sing one of the show’s very catchy song about the baby going “wah wah wah!” Dominic Rye is supremely funny as a bagpipe playing Mad Hatter. Joanna Brown presents an oboe playing Queen of Hearts with a stroppy attitude. All the multi-talented cast contribute musically to the show through instruments and singing and overall Alice In Wonderland is great theatrical fun for all the family.
Derby Theatre Young Company play vital parts in this super production including an imaginative section where Alice is shrinking after drinking from the ‘drink me’ bottle. Throughout the whole show their timing is impeccable, their talents deserving applause and their contributions amply demonstrate the future of the theatre. Who knows, out of the young cast, who we might see acting professionally on the Derby Theatre stage in twenty years time?
Alice In Wonderland runs at Derby Theatre until Saturday 7th January.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe
Photo credits: Robert Day.