7 December 2017

Alice In Wonderland - Northern Stage

When life gets mundane or everything seems a little grey, I always go back to Alice in Wonderland for inspiration. A couple of years ago I bought the 150th anniversary of the book illustrated by Vivienne Westwood, and I dip in and out of it when I feel creatively stuck or I've got writer's block. When I heard that Northern Stage was doing a production for the festive season, I knew I needed to get my Alice fix!

I walked into the theatre and felt like I'd been transported to turn of the century Paris (apart from the legions of school children in the audience). Small cabaret style tables surrounded the circus-like stage, complete with trapdoors and room for a band over to the side overlooked by a balcony and winding spiral staircase. I took a seat at one of the tables and didn't have to wait long for the action to start. In this version of the much-loved story (adapted by Theresa Heskins), Alice (Alex Tahnee) lives on a boat with her family (her Mum is like a Pirate Queen) and is quite different from the original Alice. She's not in the usual dress and Mary Janes, this Alice looks more like (in the words of the Director Mark Calvert) The Artful Dodger and is, well, pretty feisty. She's into doing magic tricks, asking lots of questions and being curious about everything. We're quickly introduced to the amazing set complete with trapdoors, ramps and pulleys and the eclectic band, with many of the actors showing off their musical talents at various points during the show.

I loved the fact that there was a Moulin Rouge vibe going on, with the cabaret style seating and band (a lot of the costumes reminded me of the film). Alice is on the lookout for adventure and falls into Wonderland (but not in the traditional way) - we quickly meet The Great Blanco (a magician dressed in white with bunny ears conveniently doubling up as the White Rabbit) brilliantly played by Chris Price (he was great in Overdue at the Alphabetti Theatre a few months back) - Harold Zidler from Moulin Rouge seems to be a big influence. Chris also plays the Mad Hatter who is understandably pretty crazed. Unfortunately Alice can't read and she suffers humiliation in a French lesson at the hands of a scary Teacher (Laura Riseborough, who also does an excellent job as the frightening Red Queen).

Alice falling into Wonderland
We follow Alice through a variety of strange and unique situations, from a Spanish-influenced song, to talking flowers who can do the Can Can (perfectly encapsulating the famous quote, "Why, sometimes I believe six impossible things before breakfast"). Everyone in Wonderland is petrified of the Red Queen, whose constant "off with their heads" demand was gleefully echoed by the younger audience members. I had managed to sit in front of the loudest kid in the theatre who at one point thought it was funny to shout abuse at Alice (I wasn't sure whether to say something to him, but luckily his teacher came over at one point and gave him what for). The ensemble cast members from Newcastle College are all charming and great at interacting with the kids (unlike me).

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee prepare to fight 
The kids thought that the rotund Tweedle Dum (Andrew Bleakly) and Tweedle Dee (Michael Blair) both strangely German in this interpretation were hilarious (they were) and the boys behind me were desperate for them to fight (luckily just with an umbrella and a fake sword). Just before the fifteen minute interval we were introduced to the scary Jabberwock, and I had to steady my nerves with some rose lemonade.

The highly imaginative and creative interpretation of the Cheshire Cat
I love how the Cheshire cat is imaginatively interpreted in this production (hats off to the Set & Costume Designer Rhys Jarman - the giant Alice is also impressive), and I've never seen Twinkle Twinkle Little Star performed as a conga before! Each encounter Alice has is almost like a move on a crazy board game and that's how it felt to watch. My personal high point was when the Mad Hatter and Mad March Hare are introduced - cue lots of singing about cakes and a surprise involving the tea party (this was the point the kid behind me went off the scale and nearly had to be removed because he was so excited by it all).

Does Alice manage to escape this crazy madness and actually get home for tea? You'll have to go and see it to find out! I left feeling like I had witnessed a surreal, bizarre dream and couldn't stop smiling at the reaction of the kids who were completely engrossed and delighted by it all. An imaginative visual treat for all the family.

Alice in Wonderland is at Northern Stage until Saturday 6th January. To book tickets click here 

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