By Richard Stewart
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – along with its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There – are two of the best-loved pieces of children’s literature. They are also nonsense. Complete and total nonsense. Sounds perfect for the Youth Group then.
Laura Wade’s adaptation keeps the enduring charm of the original, subjecting her Alice to a ‘greatest-hits’ of the tale’s most recognisable moments; the Tweedles, the Caterpillar, the Queen of Hearts all feature, but the script is coated with a superficial coat of 00’s paint. Token references are made to Alice owning a mobile phone and her trip down the Rabbit Hole is now a reaction to the roadside death of her brother Joe. While this framing device gives us a good reason for Alice to enter Wonderland, I found the other modern additions rather pointless – a needless attempt to bring a timeless story into a present-day context, and as a result some references feel more dated than the original; charming as it may have been, no-one needs to hear The Jabbywocky rapped. No-one.
These are problems with the script however – the performance held itself up well. The difficulties of such a large cast were nicely overcome with lots of doubling roles, and more than one actor playing the same part – most notably a total of nine different Alices unified by costume. Unlike 2013’s ‘Dream’ these changes of Alice were nicely held until changes of scene, avoiding any sudden adjustment for the audience. The changes of scene themselves were nicely paced – never too long with just enough difference in set configuration happening behind the change of actor to suggest a change of location without needing to be too fancy. A particular delight was during the scene with the doorknob. As Alice ate, drank and changed size, the cardboard props representing the door and table changed size around her to suggest the transformation in a very visually appealing way – a shame this sort of imaginative design wasn’t used more but it was a treat to see when it was. Less subtle were the projections that lit the back wall of the stage. While these were inoffensive as a way of showing a change of location, it was distracting that so many of them were so different in style, ranging from abstract artworks to more literal designs that never really seemed to be coherently themed (as a sidenote, never project images that are covered with copyright watermarks from stock photo websites – it doesn’t look good).
I realise I’m being needlessly picky here, but there is a reason. When you’re enjoying a show as much as I did Alice, little distractions like these become more noticeable. The performances were uniformly excellent throughout – the Alices had the hardest job of maintaining a character across so many different actors but they all succeeded, and no one cast member ever seemed to be left without a moment in the spotlight to stretch their talents. As someone who seems to have become the resident reviewer of the Youth Group shows, it’s a pleasure to see them improve over the years, to watch the growth of these young performers in both ability and confidence. These shows are growing in scope and imagination and I cannot wait to see what next year’s bunch of new faces have to offer – and a solid send off for those departing.