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REVIEW: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Playbox

Laura Woodhouse as Alice.
Laura Woodhouse as Alice.

Steve Sutherland reviews Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at The Dream Factory, Warwick, which runs until Saturday, 31st December

“Everyone’s mad here… I’m mad. You’re mad…”

Yup, we live in crazy times alright, but what we’re witnessing here is not the BBC News but Playbox Theatre’s 2016 Christmas Show, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, a fresh, kaleidoscopic re-experiencing of Lewis Carroll’s beloved nonsense tale.

It was written way back in 1865 but director Emily Quash dusts it down and re-animates it into something equally celebratory and troubling, a feverish dreamstate where all may not be what it seems. That, and lashings of raucous good fun of course.

There are two casts — the Playbox ensemble and the full quid. Our show starred the ensemble and it couldn’t have been more spiffing. We enter the theatre to a loud ticking, that most monotonous yet ominous of sounds; the tune of time passing but the hands on the clock stay stuck. Everything changes and yet… we’re in stasis, inside someone else’s dominion, Lewis Carroll’s, played with a strangely malevolent courtesy by Asher Hardy.

Playbox productions excel at choreographed mob scenes and this Alice provides plenty of opportunity for their characteristically chaotic, step-perfect set-pieces, at their most splenetic like a gang of demented Tellytubbies. The mirror dance which opens the second half is especially moving, each character turning away from its hand-held reflection as if ashamed. The cast exits turning the mirrors onto us, to look into our own souls.

Alice herself is played with just the right measure of astonishment and stubborn logic by Laura Woodhouse and it’s quite the neat theatrical trick when she first encounters Priya Edwards’ wonderful, multiple Cheshire Cats. There’s some great hooting to be had during the rock cakes and giant eyeball shenanigans, and the famous scene around the tea table is also well played, Will Dolan’s hapless Mad Hatter basking in ridiculous banter with Sammie Horton’s March Hare while pouring lashings of tea over Juliette Duffy’s dopey Dormouse.

Spiralling to the climax, it’s a heck of a daunting task, since Tim Burton CGI-ed Lewis Carroll to such cinematic effect, trying to supplant Helena Bonham Carter’s ranting, bobble-headed Queen Of Hearts from the memory. So hats — and heads! — off to Grace Martin, whose operatically psychotic Queenie had the audience on the edge of their seats and the ensemble at the end of their wits. Other hoorahs go to Martha Markham’s beautifully bi-polar Mock Turtle, Asher Hardy’s knicker-wettingly creepy Duchess, Charlie Davis’ twitchy White Rabbit and an absolute show-stealer from Cameron Scriven as a truly weirded-out Caterpillar.

As the lights come up at the end, you can’t help but envy Alice. When she awakens from her dream she returns to a life of pastoral tranquillity only faintly stained at the edges by fading hallucinations. We, on the other hand, re-enter a world just as insane as the make-believe one we’ve just left. Up still means down, down still means up, words have a habit of coming back to bite you, and a lie is so cunningly disguised that, even when revealed as a fake, it’s still embraced as God’s honest truth. Hey folks, guess what, Merry Christmas, we’re all living in Wonderland!

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