This winter the Rose Kingston theatre is putting a festive twist on a much loved, oft-revived, classic fairy tale. Before you groan “not another one”, gather your Christmas cheer and stick with me a minute.
In Ciaran McConville’s version, Alice is being forced to leave her family home after her father is crippled by the war and her mother is killed. It’s a pretty dark start for a play whose main target audience are pre-teens bubbling with Christmas excitement. But it’s fitting, and the edge to it stays true to Carroll’s original world. Soon however, we’re whisked away to Wonderland (I’m not going to lie, I was a little disappointed at the lack of Christmas pun here) and the fun starts.
If I was disappointed at the lack of puns before, I’m soon thrown the other way. The actors are young, and quite charming, however as one pun about sunflowers rushes into another and another (you won’t “beLEAF it”), it becomes difficult for the younger actors to raise little more than a soft chuckle and a comical groan from the audience.
The role of Alice is played by four actresses in rotation: Eleanor Clark, Gaia Mondadori, Madeleine Lynes and Hannah Wilkinson. Press night saw the blue team taking the floor so we were treated to Madeline Lynes playing Alice in quite lovely, but very wide-eyed, confusion. Rhea Norwood played a nonsense spouting, tap-dancing, delightfully disturbed, March Hare with flair. She’s joined by other recognisable characters like the white rabbit, the dodo, the dormouse, the Hatter and… well… some penguins. Because that’s allowed at Christmas.
This show is mainly acted by children, for children. However, Susannah Van Den Berg comes close to stealing the show as the stamping, shrieking, shrill-voiced Queen of Hearts. She doubles as the disagreeable aunt in the world above Wonderland and spoils the audience with her operatic voice and enormous presence.
McConville slightly simplifies the oddity of Lewis Carroll’s language, unsurprising seeing as it’s billed as a child-friendly Christmas play. However the magic of Alice in Wonderland lies in the Carroll’s innovative use of language, and some of this is lost in the modernity of McConville’s adaptation. When the Blue Caterpillar recites ‘The Jabberwocky’ in gravelly tones, we’re reminded of the loquacious awe inspired by Carroll, but this moment is fleeting.
Timothy Bird’s set and design utilise the space available and the projections make the set transitions easily recognisable. Most importantly, the puppetry of Alice in Winterland is what makes this a Christmas show not to miss. The Jabberwocky has the look of an impressively sized, overstretched Ikea lamp; and it’s wonderful. I won’t give much away but the children huddled at the front were gasping gleefully enough. The real puppet champion is the Bandersnatch; he’s controlled elegantly and voiced hilariously.
Alice in Winterland is a charming Christmas show that errs on the side of pantomime. Take the children, grab a mulled wine and enjoy the festivities.
Alice in Winterland is playing the Rose Theatre Kingston until 7 January 2018
Photo: Mark Douet