Alice in Wonderland
30th Nov 2017
On the coldest most wintery day of the year so far I made the journey up the A19 from Hartlepool to Newcastle to see Alice in Wonderland at Northern Stage. The sudden change in the weather made for a strange journey. The glaring headlights and fiery tail lights of queuing traffic refracted and distorted in reflections on the wet road as it snaked its way northward - not unlike the writhing, red eyed jabberwock I was soon to encounter.
Northern Theatre is transformed for the show, creating a huge space with audience on three sides of the stage. Ramps lead down from the stage bringing the action right out into the audience. Colourful, curious, clown like characters enter from side doors, from the rear of the auditorium, from the back of the stage. They appear on balconies high above and they pop up through trapdoors below the stage. It creates movement and excitement, a sense of the unexpected and a degree of disorientation, mirroring Alice's own experience of the bizarreness of Wonderland. The audience is swept along with Alice on a tide of music and song, as each new set of characters dance and prance across the stage, each bringing their stories and strange adventures. The music is live and jazzy, played by the band who are also characters in the play which makes it all the more fluid and dreamlike as the characters move in and out of the action.
Is it possible to pick out outstanding performances? They are all so good - but Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Michael Blair and Andrew Bleakley) get the most laughs for their contrariness. We love Chris Price as the White Rabbit, Great Blanco and the Mad Hatter, and Clara Darcy as The Cheshire Cat (unnerving and great use of parasols!), the Mad March Hare (I think, maybe, my favourite?) and Ma. The Ensemble. which included students from Newcastle College, are magnificent, keeping the action and the confusion and the laughter going throughout.
Alice herself is a very real character - a child with challenges of her own in life, she is tough and resourceful, inquisitive and curious. Alex Tahnee plays the part beautifully; her Alice is an entirely credible and engaging child and is the one point of sanity in this weird, wonderful, completely bonkers world!
Written by Theresa Heskins and directed by Mark Calvert this Alice in Wonderland is far removed from Disney's homogenised animation. Inspired by the Moulin Rouge, it takes Carroll's story and adds an extra element of fantasy. It has the feel of a circus with hints of clowns and acrobats and larger than life characters. It is a huge, energetic show bursting with colour and fun. Mark Calvert and Zoe Murtagh have excelled at producing a show that keeps both children and adults fully absorbed and entertained. The rapturous applause at the end of is completely and utterly deserved.
Alice in Wonderland plays until 6th Jan - if you see nothing else this festive season, see this! It's more than worth a trip through ice and snow.
*photo credit Pamela Raith