‘How’s the plot going for you guys eh?’ Asks Film and Televisions’s Black and White Cat (Laura Hyde), the bizarre Moira Rose-inspired Cheshire Cat substitute midway through Alice in Streamingland. The truthful answer is probably, ‘Not very well’, as for around 90% of the show’s runtime it is pretty impossible to make head or tail of what is going on. But this matters little: Alice in Streamingland is a riot, eliciting immense joy on a locked down winter’s night, through a combination of camp bombast, soaring pop ballads, and just a touch of canny satire.
The show is a ‘pansexual musical’ that transforms Alice in Wonderland’s topsy-turvy Victorian fantasy into a show for our times. Alice (Sofie Kaern) is a ‘TokTik’-obsessed teen, vlogging her way through Wonderland, while everyone else is based on a key figures that have been celebrated in the cultural desert of the last nine months. The White Rabbit (Matt Bateman) is a shotgun toting Joe Exotic figure screaming about Carole Baskin; The Queen of Hearts (Colin Savage, who also wrote the play) is based on RuPaul and later Princess Diana during her 1995 Panorama interview; The Duchess (Laura Hyde) is a pregnant, Dot Cotton-inspired dominatrix hurling abuse at tied-up, muscle-bound White Knight (Richard Dawes).
The narrative is a hotchpotch, with a relentless display of wit and slapstick, much of which feels improvised, and nearly all of this provokes uproarious laughter amongst the audience. It is a technically complex show, with an impressive animated backdrop and a complicated soundscape – and when, occasionally, a sound does not work or the lights do not go on in time, the gung ho cast seamlessly massage the event into the general atmosphere of chaos.
Much of the dialogue revolves around an endless array of gay sexual innuendos involving croquet sets and indeed anything that seemed to cross the filthy mind of the Queen of Hearts. Yet, the biggest highlight is the several occasions where cast members have the chance to sing, and show off their professionally trained vocals in a way that has been rare in the West End over these past few months. Alice sings a number of Dua Lipa bangers, but perhaps the biggest highlight is The Mad Hatter’s (Matt Bateman) genuinely incredible pantomime moment. Bateman sings a medley of the first six notes of Disney songs before changing to another song, devised to both avoid and to mock the corporation’s famously draconian copyright rules.
The subterranean setting of The Phoenix Arts Club feels perfect for the show, with its cavernous ceiling adorned with old sculptures and adornments from West End theatres in days gone by. Indeed the pastiche of the space in many ways mirrors the pastiche of the show; a postmodern fairytale that encapsulates the abortive creative experiences of so many trapped in lockdown this year. But at the same time, its uproarious energy removes the cautionary elements that can stifle Lewis Carroll’s Victorian original, to become that rarest of things: a show where you’re genuinely upset that it’s over.
Alice in Streamingland is playing at Phoenix Arts Club until 3 Jan. For more information and tickets, see Phoenix Arts Club’s website.