Australian Shakespeare Company: Alice in Wonderland – Theatre Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A sleepy Alice deciding whether or not to make a daisy chain is confronted by a panicked white rabbit. The rabbit says “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!” before popping down a large rabbit hole. As Alice full of intrigue follows the strange rabbit, so too begins her incredible adventures in Wonderland! For us, our adventure begins at the Capitol Theatre in Melbourne’s CBD as things grow “Curiouser and curiouser”.

First published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ has become one of the most iconic children’s literary works of all time. Invoking the fantastical imagination of a child’s mind, Alice embarks on a journey bereft of logic or sense but full of vibrant characters and endless possibilities.

From chasing a talking rabbit with a time piece to caterpillars advising what side of a mushroom you need to eat to shrink and which to grow larger, a duchess who’s baby turns into a piglet and who’s perpetually grinning Cheshire Cat directs Alice to a mad tea party. One attended by several animals and a riddling Mad Hatter, stuck forever at a perpetual 6pm (time for tea) as a means to hold off execution. Execution by the dreaded, foul tempered Queen of Hearts who cries “Off with his/her/their head!” at the slightest offence!

The tale flows from one bizarre event to another as a form of the literary nonsense genre. It’s creativity and subversion of storytelling conventions makes it a work full of potential for reinterpretation. I’ve seen Walt Disney’s take on the story, an adult orientated version, a horror film and “stoner” comedies to name but a few. The only thing I dislike seeing is attempts to reign in the novel’s trademark absurdist nature.

Thankfully, this is something the Australian Shakespeare Company‘s Alice in Wonderland theatre show avoids. Glenn Elston’s production allows the audience to become swept away in all the glorious insanity of Lewis Carroll’s timeless classic. This fun and engaging theatre extravaganza is a joy for the whole family. For the kids especially, this show contains sing-alongs and direct participation with the show which is met by on the spot improvisation from the cast.

The fully immersive experience seems tailor made for The Capitol, the house lights being unique, such as they are able to illuminate the entire theatre as dynamically as the stage itself. Throughout the show, the cast enter and exit prominently though the room’s side doors, ask children from the audience for input and at one point, send a flock of (inflatable) pink flamingos bouncing around the hall! All of which keeps the little ones feeling like they themselves are a part of the adventure.

The cast were marvellous with Cassidy Dunn playing Alice as a friendly and loveable youth with eyes full of wonder. The rest of the cast each take on multiple of the loopy characters. For example, director Dennis Manahan takes on the Mad Hatter, Bill the Lizard and Humpty Dumpty so well, I didn’t realise it was him in the three (and essentially four) roles. Rachel Tunaley also deserves special mention with her portrayal of the White Rabbit, kicking off the show so full of energy and spectacle.

The lavish costumes are stunning, emphasising these over the top personas. From Alice‘s immediately recognisable blue dress and apron to the Mad Hatter‘s numerous… hats. Tweedledee and Tweedledum have their matching wardrobes, the Duchess is displayed in her fine regalia and the giant Queen of Hearts has her flowing dress.

Here, the Queen and King (Maddy Mason and Benjamin Barker) perform on stilts looming large over their subjects. I particularly enjoyed these fascinating ways in which this production brings Wonderland’s more outlandish characters and events to life.

Utilising stage tricks and puppetry, Humpty Dumpty‘s tiny arms and legs, the Cheshire Cat with its detached floating grin and the Caterpillar (Ross Daniels) with his long flowing body and multiple arms can be realised. So too can Alice’s bout with gigantism, as Alice grows to mammoth proportions off stage with us only being able to see her huge arms reaching in to grab at the White Rabbit.

All of this helps to make Alice in Wonderland such a constantly surprising and entertaining production. The production targets a younger crowd than the previous Australian Shakespeare Company production I saw (The Wind in the Willows), with small children enthusiastically calling out and engaging with the characters and story. Let yourself tumble down the rabbit hole and join in on the fun as soon as possible!

Alice in Wonderland is currently playing at The Capitol Theatre in Melbourne until the 21st of January.
For more information and ticketing, visit:
https://www.shakespeareaustralia.com.au

Photography by Ben Fon.

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