My nine-year-old companion enjoyed Alice in Wonderland rather more than I did, but with one of the Polka’s child-centric shows that is as it should be. I found the acting style very children’s-TV-presenter, all wide eyes and over-the-top gestures, but she, and the rest of the children in the audience, were enchanted.
Having said that, there was lots I liked about this short and sweet production. The cast of six work incredibly hard to populate wonderland with all kinds of creatures, and their enthusiasm and energy never flag or falter. Ebony Feare is fun as a rather stroppy Alice, fighting with her mean big sister and then disappearing into a dream world wonderland. The way director Rosamunde Hutt puts imagination at the forefront of the production is a nice touch.
In fact, it’s an imaginative production all round: the Cheshire Cat’s grin flutters around the stage on a series of fans which snap closed when he disappears. The Queen of Hearts (Gehane Strehler) flounces about with wonderful aplomb – there’s more than a touch of Blackadder’s Queenie about her. The white rabbit and mock turtle (both Dale Superville) are rather lovely, especially the melancholic, blinking turtle. The lobster quadrille was a highlight. Ti Green’s set is enjoyable flexible and Katie Lias’s costumes are fun.
There are plenty of moments that are clever, well-staged and imaginative, but it doesn’t feel like a show for families – this one is aimed squarely at the kids and there isn’t much in it for grown-ups. The bright-eyed wonder at it all gets a bit trying after a while, and I find it hard to see how you could follow the story if you didn’t know the plot beforehand. Alice is so surreal and baffling anyway, that the lack of narrative thread here is conspicuous.
It’s good fun, though, and as I say, the children in the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves. My companion liked the Cheshire Cat and the croquet game (well, the flamingoes) best, but thought it deeply unfair that the rose petals with fell from the ceiling weren’t distributed more evenly about the space (they missed her entirely).
The story’s been squeezed into two hours, and at times the pace does feel breathless. We hardly meet one character or settled down for tea before it’s time to dash off again. It opens with Alice and her sister playing and squabbling, and ends with a grown-up Alice watching her own daughter disappear down the rabbit hole, which is rather sweet.
Alice in Wonderland is at the Polka Theatre until 15 February 2014. For more information and tickets visit the Polka’s website.