We are invited into the curious and famous world of Wonderland in this winter offering from the Lyceum. There’s always both risk and benefit in producing such a well loved and broadly interpreted story. Audiences will attend with enthusiasm, but expectations are high and often specific.
In terms of staging, this is creative and stunning, with a truly magical, surreal quality. And it’s not limited to the stage itself, as the already majestic auditorium is adorned to extend the theme beyond the fourth wall. Many devices are employed to play with perspective to great effect and as we journey with Alice, there’s also a sense of movement to the design. The costumes provide comedy of their own and are flamboyantly wonderful, well matched to both the set and the varying characters’ quirks and idiosyncrasies. One of Carroll’s most well known creations, the caterpillar (played by Zoe Hunter), arrives by night on a giant moving mushroom, glittering in green, smoke swirling around the stage as she puffs on a hookah. It’s a strange, yet intoxicating sight.
Jess Peet’s Alice appears to be mostly a petulant, irritated and sightly bored child, resulting in what feels like an emotional alienation from us, the audience. As the protagonist of the story, we do need to like her, relate to her and be on side, which isn’t so easy in this portrayal until the very last scene. There’s a distinct lack of wonder, which given the abundance of wonder in other areas of the production, feels out of sync. The ensemble bring a humorously bizarre warmth from a mixture of exaggerated, yet quite real performances and it is in these comparatively minor roles, that the entertainment of the piece is to be found. Gabriel Quigley is on point as the Queen (of Hearts) we love to hate, while David Carlyle’s Welsh Gryphon is cleverly subtle, yet hilarious.
There are moments reminiscent of vaudeville, pantomime and psychedelia, reflecting the elements of childhood innocence and contrasting darker themes of Lewis Carroll’s writing. While the score isn’t especially memorable, it is in keeping with the style of the piece along with the gentle harmonies from the cast. Here Jess Peet especially excels, with a beautifully beguiling singing voice.
With a fairly wide appeal in terms of age, the audience goes home on a high, following a riotously energetic flourish of a final scene. Of the many versions of Alice in Wonderland that have graced staged and screen, I can’t say that this is one of my favourites, but nevertheless it is fun and a veritable feast for the eyes.
Alice in Wonderland is running at the Lyceum Theatre until 31st December
All photographs by Drew Farrell.