Writer: Colin Savage
Thank God for second halves as the first half of Alice in Streamingland is awful. Jokes fall flat, accents are confused and the story is incomprehensible, all of which lead to a very unresponsive audience who refuse to interact with this adult pantomime. But somehow – perhaps the chance to refill glasses in the interval is part of it – the audience thaws and the cast come to life in the second half and it’s suddenly impossible not to have fun.
A good deal of this delayed success is down to Matt Bateman. As the White Rabbit, and the hunter of Alice he’s not funny, but when he camps it up as the Knave of Hearts in a boyband spoof, right at the end of the first half, the show’s comedy begins to fall into place. As if heartened by the laughs he gets, the other actors slot more easily into their roles, and they can relax, knowing at last that the audience is on their side.
In the first half, The Evil Queen, played by Colin Savage, is constrained by a scripted string of jokes, all unfunny, as she makes her way through the audience. But in the second half, Savage is able to ad lib, and is decidedly more engaging as she reacts to the audience’s interactions. Likewise, it’s not until the second half that the audience realises that Kane Hoad, as the White Knight, is hamming it up completely as the scarf- wielding pansexual hero.
Laura Hyde has the hardest role as the narrating Black and White Cat, and there’s not really much for her to do, apart from repeat the same joke about terrible wine, but in the second half, with its group numbers (oddly missing from the first half) she, too, settles down into the comedy. As Alice, Sofie Kaern is in fine voice, and sings her songs well, and by the end of the show the audience is fully supportive.
The story remains unfathomable, but slowly you realise that it doesn’t matter and once the cast start having fun so do the audience. Perhaps Savage, as the writer, needs to revisit the first half as the show moves into its second week; or perhaps the audience needs to be told to have a glass of sherry or two before they arrive at the Phoenix Arts Centre. Or perhaps switch the halves completely? The story might make better sense!
But adult pantomimes, performed live in theatres, are a rare commodity this year, and so kudos to Savage and his cast. Best to see Alice in Streamingland as a glass half full, than a glass half empty.
Runs until 3 January 2020