Ruby Bentall,Pippa Haywood,Jack Beale,Beattie Edney,John Marquez,Jonathan McGuiness
Ever since Lewis Carroll’s iconic book, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, was published in 1909 it and its sequel Through The Looking Glass have been subject to many, many adaptations.
There’s been countless stage versions, cartoons and various live-action adaptations right up to Tim Burton’s critically mauled version earlier this year. You’d think that there wasn’t much more that could be done with Alice and her myriad of surreal friends.
Yet Sheffield playwright Laura Wade has managed to create a fresh, exciting re-imagining of the classic tale. Alice is now a feisty 12 year old, growing up in Sheffield and mourning the death of her brother in a road accident. Her escape ‘down the rabbit hole’ enables her to come to terms with her loss with many of Carroll’s classic characters representing parts of her young, damaged psyche.
It’s a clever concept (reminiscent of Spike Jonze’s film version of Where The Wild Things Are at times) and brilliantly realised by the talented crew at the Crucible. Wade has modernised Carroll’s text, dumping the ‘curiouser and curiouser’ language and brought in references to mobile phones, computer games and, in one superbly funny scene, immigration control.
It’s the set designs that really impress though. Wonderland is as fantastically surreal as you’d expect, redolent of film maker Jean-Pierre Jeunet at times, and the floor space is used inventively, with various props popping up from the floor and others being projected onto walls.
As Alice, Ruby Bentall demonstrates that she is a star in the making. She is uncannily convincing as a girl 10 years her junior and nails the Sheffield accent perfectly. Pippa Haywood is both moving as Alice’s bereaved mother and hysterical as the Queen Of Hearts, while Beattie Edney deserves special mention as the overbearing Duchess.
Director Lyndsey Turner keeps things moving at a cracking pace, piling memorable set-piece on top of memorable set-piece: from Alice’s memorable encounters with Humpty Dumpty and the overgrown public schoolboys that are Tweedledum & Tweedledee, to more ambitious scenes such as the brilliantly choreographed opening scene set at the funeral wake and the show-stopping lobster dance.
The most impressive thing about Alice is that although Wade fills her story with many of Carroll’s creations – the Cheshire Cat (here played as Russell Brand channelling Lord Flashart from Blackadder), the flamingo croquet match and the closing trial of the Knave of Hearts – it still feels like an original piece in its own right. The addition of a downbeat bluegrass quartet performing some of Carroll’s songs is also a welcome touch.
Unlike many previous adaptations, this Alice isn’t for very young children – themes of mortality and loss give it a darker edge amongst the all the wonder – but it’s one of the most purely enjoyable pieces of theatre you’ll see all year. And, following her well-received Posh at the Royal Court earlier this year, it also confirms Laura Wade as one of this country’s most promising young playwrights.