Lead Writer and Director- Jack Bradfield
Alice and her mum are having an argument in Brixton station. Alice runs onto the Tube before her mum can stop her, and is transported into a fantasy world: a Wonderland, even. But this Wonderland is the world of the Underground, and over the next hour and 40 minutes Alice will come face to face with goalkeeping twins, anthropomorphised noses, and do battle with the Queen. A peppy but sometimes mis-paced and mis-plotted show, Alice in Wonderland is doubtless a Christmas treat.
Taking Carroll’s story and making it very local, much of the humour is derived from endless (they come every other line) puns and references to the Underground and Brixton. Undoubtedly appropriate for a play premiering in Brixton House, your liking for this show may depend on how well you like this style of joke and are amused by recognising place names, but the majority are well-observed and amusingly placed. Same with the transformation of Wonderland’s inhabitants into commuters, pigeons and rats, all ably played by the talented ensemble (Khai Shaw, Rosa Garland, Will Spence) who receive the lion share of the jokes and deliver consistently committed performances. Special commendation must go to Shaw’s humorous Hammersmith, Garland’s Tortoise (not Turtle) and Spence’s Nose—these are the creatures that make Wonderland feel alive.
For the most part Alice’s story is engaging and convincing, delivered by Nkhanise Phiri in one of the most believable child characterisations of the year. Her growing self-confidence in herself and her rap are the highlights of the show, as is her desire to help the inhabitants of the Underground grow, even including Toyin Ayedun-Alase’s dual roles of the Mad Hatter and Queen. However, the relationship between Hatter, Queen and Alice could be more sharply drawn; we don’t feel the parallels between them as much as writer Jack Bradfield may have liked, and despite Ayedun-Alase’s sense of menace the Queen never feels like too much of a threat. That role goes to the impressively realised Jabberwocky and Cat, but even they are neutered by the end. It fits with the sweet and wholesome tone of the show to have everyone redeemed, but a little bite beforehand would make the redemption all the sweeter.
The production is sold by the impressive lighting design of Rajiv Pattani and the malleable but instantly recognisable Tube carriage set by Shankho Chaudhuri and Israel Kujore. “Rappaturg” Gerel Falconer creates bars that lodge in the memory and propel our enjoyment of the story consistently, if not always the plot. In fact it’s only in the second half that the plot really gets going, and we move from amusing vignettes wherein Alice meets the Underground residents and into her very funny fight against the Queen.
Moving, memorable and creatively realised, Alice in Wonderland is a fantastically original update of the classic text. Propelled by a committed and comedic cast, as well as a deceptively humorous but ultimately emotional story, its uneven pace and muddy themes can be forgiven by its sheer energy and enjoyment factor. Alice-ocracy, indeed.
Runs until 31 December 2022