Michael Fowkes, Seonaid Goody, Jonathan Storey, Mandy Travis
directed and designed by
Lewis Carroll’s much loved 1865 tale of trying to find logic in nonsense Alice In Wonderland provides the inspiration for one of the Little Angel Theatre’s most ambitious and perhaps most technically complex show to date.|
Any adaptation of Alice In Wonderland has plenty of visual material to draw upon, from the splashy 1951 Disney cartoon to the overblown Tim Burton extravaganza earlier this year.
However, the prevailing imagery has to be the original Sir John Tenniel illustrations. Director and designer Peter O’Rourke (who has also designed the Little Angel productions of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox and The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me) achieves a sense of the surreal and epic nature of the story that is just right on a puppet-sized scale. He remains faithful to the essence of the original images while giving the production his own quirky visual flair.
The set is dominated by an array of sepia photographs, which prove to be very versatile indeed in manoeuvring set changes. They become the doors that Alice longs to go through, the playing cards in the Queen of Heart’s court and members of the jury when Alice is on trial. All the technical aspects are outstanding, demonstrated by David Duffy’s remarkable lighting and the flawless scene changes.
Carroll’s sprawling cast of Wonderland inhabitants is pared down to Alice, the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, a Cheshire accented Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter and March Hare (accompanied by the Dormouse) and the Queen of Hearts (and her husband, who doesn’t usually get a look-in), all of whom are wonderfully well-defined. I particularly liked the great big yellow and orange striped monster of a Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit full of manic pomposity. Alice herself is alternately impetuous and prim and beautifully expressive. A particularly lovely moment is when she is transformed into a shadow (represented by a shadow puppet)- meta theatre for children?
The team of four puppeteers/actors (Jonathan Storey, Mandy Travis, Michael Fowkes and Seonaid Goody) are all extraordinarily multi-talented and hardworking as they have to manipulate the puppets, act, sing and adapt the scenery and props. The way that they act through the puppets is like a special double act, in which puppet and performer are reliant on one other.
One of the many joys of Little Angel productions is the use of original music (provided by Ben Glasstone, who also collaborated with Peter O’Rourke on the Roald Dahl adaptations). The songs include a puzzlement for Alice, a laid back bluesy number for the Caterpillar, and a show stopping music hall routine for the Cheshire Cat, all of which are wittily written and infectiously catchy.
While this may not be a definitive Alice adaptation from a literary perspective (I felt that a few more lines from the book could have been incorporated into Tim Kane’s script), the wonderful puppets and the ingenuity of the stagecraft, is, in classic Little Angel style, a thing of wonder. A highly inventive and enjoyable take of a story that’s every bit as delightful and bemusing for adults as it is for children.