Writer: Mike Kenny after the book by Lewis Carroll
Director: Sarah Brigham
Reviewer: Dave Smith
With a more traditional panto taking place across the city at Derby Arena for the Christmas season, Derby Theatre has instead opted for an adaptation of one of our best-loved children’s stories, Alice in Wonderland (with Tweedledum and Tweedledee sneaking in from Through the Looking Glass), brought to the stage by the prolific pen of adaptor Mike Kenny and Derby Theatre’s Artistic Director Sarah Brigham.
What they’ve put together is an energetic, funny and exuberant performance that delivers on pretty much every level. Unlike many other Christmas shows, it also fully earns its description as a family show, being just as engaging and involving for the older members of the audience as it is for the children. Some of the younger ones may struggle to follow everything that’s going on (there is, after all, quite a lot to fit into the available time, especially when large chunks of it are filled by songs), but to be fair, such is the surreal nature of the source material, that that has probably been the case for years, and it never stopped generations of children from loving it.
While the central story of Alice’s journey through Wonderland stays relatively true to Carroll’s original tale, it is topped and tailed by a more modern setting in which schoolgirl Alice (played by the enthusiastic and very talented Abby Wain) heads into school for some important exams, only to let the stress of the day overwhelm her and tip her into a deep hole, cleverly illustrated by some very nifty ropework (and preceded by her teacher turning into a white rabbit).
The majority of the cast is comprised of a team of actor-musicians who between them take on the bulk of the colourful characters Alice meets on her journey, from a tartan-clad, bagpipe-playing Mad Hatter (Dominic Rye) and a caterpillar that transforms into the Cheshire Cat (Keshini Misha) to a fully punked-up Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Paula James and John Holt Roberts). Meanwhile, a troupe of young actors play fellow school children, playing cards, a hedgehog, back ends of the caterpillar and even shrunken Alices, with almost as much confidence as their professional counterparts.
Ivan Stott’s songs help keep the whole thing moving along at a lively pace, with highlights including the aforementioned Tweedledum and Tweedledee punk number and a hip hop remix of an earlier tune featuring a rapping Alice, while it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to stop yourself singing “And the baby went wah! wah! wah!” all the way home afterwards.
With a familiar and well-adapted story, a strong cast and a set of well-crafted songs at its core, the show is completed by the work of Neil Irish, who has designed some colourful costumes which make each character instantly recognisable without being in thrall to the Tenniel illustrations, and a revolving set that nicely complements the dreamlike nature of the show.
That it all comes together so successfully is testament to director Sarah Brigham, and part of the enjoyment is that everyone involved looks like they have had as much fun putting it together as the audience does watching it.
Whatever you do this Christmas, make sure you find time to drag the children away from their tablets and computer games to enjoy some of the best entertainment likely to be on offer in Derby over the festive season. And if you don’t have any children available, or they really don’t want to be dragged away, don’t worry, because you’ll have just as good a time without them.
Runs until 7 January 2017 | Image: Robert Day