Writer: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Director: Elizabeth Newman
Reviewer: Paul Downham
This year’s festive offering from Bolton’s Octagon Theatre sees Alice in Wonderland take to the unique in-the-round stage. Seven actors undertake 35 different rôles in what is a non-stop 90 minutes of enthralling theatre for all ages.
As you enter the auditorium, a school classroom greets you on the stage with the pupils already in place interacting with the audience sharing what they have learnt during the day. The story begins as teacher Mr Lewis struggles to decide whom should take home the class rabbit for the holidays, but then the rabbit disappears and it is Alice played by Sarah Vezmar who takes chase after it and into a world of wonder. With some clever circus style aerial hoop work suddenly Alice finds herself immersed in a world where flowers and animals talk and the Queen has an addiction to chopping off people’s heads!
Throughout the production, the cast not only take on numerous rôles, but they all also play musical instruments, ensuring that all the songs sung composed by Barbara Hockaday are accompanied with live music, and not pre-recorded tracks.
While Vezmar’s portrayal of Alice is faultless it is difficult to single out one actor in this production as Emily Butterfield, Barbara Hockaday, Russell Morton, Offue Okegbe, Jack Quarton and Alex Sawyer work tirelessly to fill the stage.
Scene transitions are slick throughout the show as Michael Vale’s minimalist set throws up surprise after surprise making efficient use of the space available, ensuring nobody misses any part of the action. Effective lighting design by Aideen Malone tracks the action as it moves not only around the stage but also the auditorium.
Lewis Carroll’s tale is given a modern twist at the beginning of the second half as Tweedledee and Tweedledum played by Quarton and Morton burst into the auditorium before rapping and break dancing their way through the first scene much to the delight of the kids in the audience.
Alice in Wonderland may not be a traditional festive production but it matches any such show. Enchanting the audience, both young and old, from the moment you enter the auditorium until you leave. Add to this the multi-talented cast and the timeless story and you’ve got a hit on your hands.
Alice in Wonderland plays until 10th January 2016 | Photo: Ian Tilton