ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND
ROYAL LYCEUM, EDINBURGH
Review by Mark Brown
It was almost inevitable that playwright Anthony Neilson would, at some point, adapt Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the stage. Not only has the Scottish dramatist displayed a penchant for Christmas theatre in the past (The Night Before Christmas, Get Santa!), but his most critically acclaimed play, The Wonderful World of Dissocia, owes a discernible debt to Carroll’s delightfully absurdist story.
The coming together of Neilson (as both adaptor and director), Carroll and the Victorian splendour of Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum theatre is a marriage made in heaven. From the moment that Alice (played with a wonderful combination of precociousness, dauntlessness and innocence by Jess Peet) arrives in Wonderland it is clear that the grand, old playhouse has a hit Christmas show on its hands.
As the White Rabbit scampers off in haste, designer Francis O’Connor offers us a world of visual delights that is inspired by Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations for Carroll’s tale. The carefully stripped back stage, which is framed with what looks like the topsy turvy paraphernalia of a Victorian fairground, plays host to a breathtakingly beautiful series of sets and costumes.
David Carlyle’s wonderfully witty Welsh Gryphon is resplendent in gorgeous plumage. Gabriel Quigley’s hilariously imperious Queen of Hearts captures absolutely the homicidal regent envisioned by Carroll and Tenniel.
Whilst it looks ravishing, the production is a feast for all of the senses as script, characterisation, music and design come together with the acting of a superb ensemble. There are, for instance, shades of The Beatles and Ian Dury and the Blockheads (among others) in the curiously appropriate music by composer Nick Powell.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the fantastic realisation of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The casting of the ever excellent Tam Dean Burn as an especially bonkers Hatter is close to genius. As his huge table rotates, to the March Hare’s delight, Burn sings a crazy song about the capriciousness of Time amidst a scene of glorious chaos.
Such moments are repeated throughout the show, from the spaced-out Caterpillar’s weird pronouncements from atop a huge mushroom to the soup-related outrage of the Duchess (played in fabulous pantomime dame style by Alan Francis).
Neilson’s play is sharp and funny, with a tremendous sense of the rhythm of the story. Little wonder that this outstanding production’s two hours seem to fly by.
Until December 31. lyceum.org.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on December 2, 2016
© Mark Brown