Original author: Lewis Carroll
Director: Niall Henry
Dramaturg: Jocelyn Clarke
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
How do you re-tell Alice in Wonderland in a way which has not been done before? The truth is, many can’t. Blue Raincoat, however, take an explored aspect, of an older Alice revisiting her time in Wonderland. How they go about this, cobbled together with string and sinew is intriguingly different.
As we are catapulted through the tale of Alice in Wonderland, this is whirlwind storytelling. We are swept off our feet, whizzing around the pages of the story, encountering all of our fond childhood favourites. They seem though, unlike what many will remember. For this is no Disneyfied version of madness, no this is Lewis Carroll via the Brothers Grimm.
There’s an undercurrent of identity with Alice but also with our own stories author. As the older Alice recounts her time in Wonderland, she begins to involve herself, blurring the lines of which Alice we are watching. Our two Alice’s are Hilary Brown-Walsh (Older) and Miriam Needham (Young).
They match each other well, almost too well, as little seems to change in Alice following her adventures. Brown-Walsh makes for an adept narrator at first, an intriguing Alice, but it is in the opening and closing where she shines. Needham has clout and a great deal of vigour. Her aggression takes a twisted form, the Cheshire’s infamous; “We’re All Mad Here” hints at an Alice with an unhinged fascination.
Where many adaptations fall is in forgetting the original stories appeal, the attraction to Alice in Wonderland is inherently the journey she goes on. The velocity in which we traverse this incarnation is quick, perhaps too quick for a younger audience, doing what it can to keep the audience up to speed. Though it will not wait for stragglers with seldom peaceful moments.
The Red Queen, the Mad Hatter, along with the March Hare, the White Rabbit and of course, the Cheshire Cat, these are the classic creations of literature. It is with such care, such love and devotion that Blue Raincoat give each one the performance they deserve.
Most notably Sean Elliot as the March Hare and Red Queen and John Carty the White Rabbit and Cheshire Cat. They both give such conviction in their roles, taking the insanity of Wonderland and pushing it to the nth degree. Elliot brings tremendous energy, his Queen is as menacing as she is ridiculous.
Paul McDonnell’s set design is made from an assortment of curios and simple pieces from around an abandoned home. The magic created is clever with large portrait frames which serve as doors, card guards or a way to visualise movement. A series of tables visualise Alice’s gradual increase or decrease, a delightful way to deal with difficult transitions.
As we lament the Mock Turtle, the madness of it all comes crashing down in melancholic doldrums. Here Bowen-Walsh serenades her young self in the guise of the elderly Turtle. It’s a bittersweet melody centred on the soup for which the Turtle is famous. Its sentiment becomes clear as the old Turtles eyes well, a testament to the emotive performer Bowen-Walsh is. Lingering a little too long, souring the effect – a verse less and perhaps it might have kept its impact.
A tantalising macabre version, Blue Raincoat’s Alice in Wonderland is a visual feast, inventive in its storytelling mechanics. It’s rammed filled with characters, clever artistry and some funny lines but finds itself wrapping it’s coattails up in its own whirlwind of delivery.
Runs until 8 June 2019 | Image: Contributed