Her Majesty’s Theatre
Until 12 Jan 2018

Review by Anthony Vawser

Are the amazing adventures of Alice able to be boiled down to one hour of successful on-stage entertainment for all ages? This production would suggest that they are not.

At its centre is Georgina Walker’s portrayal of Alice, which seems to lack all of the attributes that make Lewis Carroll’s creation an appealing protagonist, coming across instead to this reviewer, regrettably, as a dim-bulb, broadly-American-accented bimbo. What may have been intended as a comic cultural-contrast to the predominant ‘British-ness’ of the figures that surround her merely makes the title character sound like a distracting incongruity in her own show, rather than a genuinely curious little girl lost in a world of wonder – especially since Walker has been given such a high proportion of speaking lines that have been lifted straight from the text rather than adapted to better fit her chosen characterisation.

The adaptation in question (by director Penny Farrow) aims to retain and communicate a great deal of Carroll’s verbal wit and gamesmanship, while compressing too many crazy characters and flights of fancy into not enough time. This results in a mostly awkward blend of actors hamming it up in an indulgent fashion while delivering intelligent jokes that struggle to register in this context. In the absence of elaborate, epic spectacle, perhaps an old-fashioned pantomime approach – freed from the letter of the text – could have proved truly fun and involving for an audience, but the mixture settled upon here tends to fall between two stools.

Significant flaws in direction leave crucial moments – such as Alice’s growing and shrinking – less than convincing. There is a strange lack of music or ambient sounds to fill in several awkward silences in various scenes, while the referencing by characters to sights which clearly could not be feasibly conjured-up on-stage is an annoyance that doesn’t compute, and which seemed to have kids in the dress circle peering over the balcony in confusion at whether they were meant to be actually seeing something or not.

On the positive side: lighting is impressively atmospheric at times, while colourfully detailed costumes, and the use of well-constructed hand puppets, certainly catch the eye at their best, but also illustrate the difficulty in attempting to adequately convey, on a live stage, the true depth of wonderment that can be found in the Alice books. Perhaps it is too much of a challenge, when sitting in as traditional a theatre as Her Majesty’s, to suspend one’s disbelief in the way that the world of Wonderland demands of an audience – or perhaps such a widely-known, widely-loved, widely-adapted text is bound to cease feeling fully fresh and evergreen after a certain amount of time in the public consciousness. Whatever the origin of its problems, this version of “Alice in Wonderland” – despite bursts of energy, committed performances, and virtues of design - is a mostly uncomfortable, uncharming, and unsatisfying experience.