DramaReviewSouth West

Alice in Wonderland – Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

Writer: Lewis Carroll

Adaptor: Mike Kenny

Director: Rachel O’Riordan

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

A refreshing new take on the original – and that in itself is no small achievement – Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland gives more than a nod to contemporary issues such as identity. Opening scenes in Alice’s home and schoolroom segue seamlessly into more familiar territory. The much-loved characters are all here; the White Rabbit, (a lively performance by Joseph Tweedale, scurrying around, watch in hand, with a skip and a jump), the Mad Hatter (James Ifan), the Duchess (Keiron Self) Queen of Hearts, (Hannah McPake) Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee (Alexandria Riley and Francois Pandolfo respectively) to name but a few, with scenes such as the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the Lobster Quadrille and much more. There is plenty here for traditionalists to enjoy.

In the skilful hands of director Rachel O’Riordan, Carroll’s immortal story is full of action and joie de vivre, but also shows the vulnerable side of Alice. If in Kenny’s adaptation this means at times some of the whimsicality is lost, then so be it. The sheer joy and fun come over strongly – after all, this is the Sherman’s main Christmas show. The sure comedic touch of Keiron Self as a Dame-like Duchess and Hannah McPake as a stage-strutting Queen of Hearts, make the second half a gem.

The black and white set is cunningly designed, with a rabbit hole at the appropriate moment and adjusted miraculously (by sliding panels) with illusionary effect as Alice in turn shrinks and grows bigger. Designer Hayley Grindle has eschewed the more usual scene changes with remarkable effect, using optical illusion and sliding panels, plus a scattering of well-placed props.

As for the musical numbers, a sheer delight with several of the characters on stage musicians too – a major ask of any actor. There are a number of songs, ranging from the wistful to the wonderfully comic as befits the strange world in which Alice finds herself. The former, sung by the delightful Elian West as a girlish Alice whose sense of propriety is thrown to the winds once she falls down that rabbit hole, is particularly notable. In fact, the music, composed by and directed by Lucy Rivers, is a major contribution to this production, making it at timers feel like musical theatre. A musical in there waiting in the wings to be annexed, perhaps? If at times on opening night the music is over-loud in the first half, which applies also to some of the actors being inclined to shout over loudly, then this is something that can easily be rectified.

A new take on a tried and trusted old favourite, particularly one which has been performed so many times on stage, on film and as a ballet, is never going to please everyone, but this one is pretty good.

A fitting production to bid farewell to the talented O’Riordan, who moves on next year to become Artistic Director of the Lyric, Hammersmith. O’Riordan has done a huge amount of work in upping the standard at the Sherman, and in promoting Welsh theatre – the Lyric’s gain is Wales’ loss.

Reviewed on 27th November 2018 | Image: Contributed

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A fun Alice

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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