Theatre Review: Journey back down the rabbit hole with Alice in Wonderland (Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne)

Alice in Wonderland is a timeless story explored through multiple media forms every year and in 2019 has been bought to the stage. The family story is one full of magic and wonder and never fails to attract an audience of fans and newcomers alike, which is what makes Lewis Carroll‘s story a classic.

This presentation of the story confines it down to the core components of the classic tale hitting all of your favourite scenes and doing so in under an hour. The plot itself isn’t changed save for the comedic beats interjected regularly and that allows for a rapid pace to take you through each of the iconic character scenarios we know so well. You get your fix of the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, and of course the Queen of Hearts who steals the entire show. Each of the core scenes explored are engaging in their own right, whether it’s the talented puppeteering work, the elaborate costuming, or the humour suitable for all ages there is a charm to each sequence that will hold your attention. The context of each of the scenes and what led Alice to these locations is told through a brief narrative voiceover alleviating any confusion going into some of the scenes but not all of them.

With such a small cast involved it’s integral to the performance that each and every one is on point otherwise they would no doubt stand out. But you need not worry as each of the actors does a fine job in portraying their respective characters to a tee with the accents, mannerisms, and personalities on point. Georgina Walker who portrays the titular character does a fantastic job at really drawing your gaze to her through each of her interactions with other characters. She embraces this character stuck in a ‘fish out of water’ scenario and is the life of the performance as she carries through to each and every scene. Some of the minor characters including the Cheshire Cat and Caterpillar don’t have much of a presence and rather forgettable scenes. One of the saving graces of the performance is the Queen of Hearts herself portrayed expertly and hilariously by Simon Burvill-Holmes who brings his own unique touch to the iconic character. The character makes a late entry but injects a certain liveliness to the story that is otherwise a little more mellow. The choice of casting here adds to the entertaining nature of the Queen retaining the fearsome nature of the character whilst also delivering a bulk of the humour.

Humour plays a major role in this performance as being a more family-oriented show it caters for the younger audience in the crowds but doesn’t neglect the fact that there are adults that require entertaining too. It’s evident which jokes are tailored to which crowd based on the reaction and the humour never really hits across the entire audience. As this is a much smaller production there are limitations on the design of the sets and changing of the sets per each new scene. This leads to the majority of the locations and props being left to the imagination and where sometimes this is fine considering the crew on-hand it did take me out of it from time to time. I also feel as though the runtime is perfect considering the scale of the performance, any shorter and it’d feel like it’s being rushed, any longer and it would start to drag in between the main story beats.

Being a smaller production with a limited cast it’s not going to have the benefits of extravagant sets and elaborate costuming but the enjoyment comes out of the magic of the story and the passion from each of the cast members who put their all into their characters. The cast are all great and a good amount of the humour hits whereas there are some misses here and there, predominantly early on. The classic story is told well here and it’s a good production that remains entertaining despite the occasional flaw.

THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Alice in Wonderland was held at the Athenaeum Theatre (188 Collins St, Melbourne). The reviewer attended the production on Thursday 10th January.

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