Alice in Wonderland

by Terry Atkinson and Alex Codling

Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 13 - 15 and 19 - 21 January 2012



Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a classic tale we all know and love but this Pantomime version by Abingdon Drama Club certainly took us to new and unexpected places.

On first entering the charming Unicorn Theatre I was taken aback by the striking tree that grew from the stage. It certainly created a fantastically striking base for the rest of the set, which was minimal but very effective with cartoon shapes and metallic colours. The story loosely followed the original text by Carroll, with characters and poems from ‘Through the Looking Glass’ making occasional appearances. Alice found herself in Wonderland after falling out with her mother over a boy, an addition to the story which I think worked beautifully. Alice, played by Lydia Smith, was very well cast. She embodied the traditional ideal of Alice, while adding a feisty and quirky twist to the character. Her performance throughout the play was consistent and very enjoyable to watch. She certainly fulfilled the roles full potential. A stunning all-round performance.

When in wonderland Alice encountered all manners of characters on her journey to get back home and was accompanied on her quest by the ‘Ace of Spades’ played by Lee Orchard. Although traditionally in pantomime a woman plays the principle boy, Lee attacked the role with gusto and vigour. His energy throughout the production was highly contagious and he showed great commitment to the role. When performing ‘Does Your mother Know’, although no singer, Lee never failed to entertain us. A job well done. It was great to see so many characters we know and love, from the 'White (Welsh) Rabbit' played beautifully by Adam Blake, to the very entertaining 'Tweedledum' and 'Tweedledee', played by Becky Kernutt and Annie McLeod. Praise indeed must go the 'Cheshire cat', voiced by Deborah Watkins. I was delighted by the magical effect of the disappearing cat, leaving only it's famous grin behind. A very clever interpretation indeed. The famous 'Walrus and the Carpenter’ poem was included in the show, complete with Oysters. A very cleverly designed scene, beautifully read by all characters involved, it was very entertaining. I especially liked the disappearing act of the oysters, very curious.

Of course, we couldn’t have a pantomime without a good old pantomime villain. In this story who else would it be but ‘The Queen of Hearts’! Laura King was outstanding as Queeny, a genius performance as the delightfully wicked 'wed headed’ queen, never failing to deliver ‘off with their heads’. Queeny’s sidekick Nursey was played expertly by Geraldine McTier and was a fantastic addition to the script, written by Terry Atkinson and Alex Codling.

The script was an imaginative, new and exciting version of a story I know very well. It was cleverly adapted and although it didn’t stick to the original plot exactly it had enough of what we all know and love to transport us into the familiar tale. There was plenty of silliness for the younger audience and just as much adult humour to keep the rest of us entertained.

The costumes were very well thought out and I especially liked the mix of very traditional and contemporary styles. They were combined very sympathetically and really brought the characters alive. I was very impressed with the ‘animal’ costumes.

Throughout the play we were treated to lots of songs and dances by all manner of characters. When reading the song list in the programme before the show I was dubious as to how this very varied mix of genres work would in one show, but I must say it worked very well. The director, Alex Codling, beautifully choreographed the dances and I was delighted to see actors of all ages being involved. Although it was obvious that not all the performers were natural singers I instantly forgave any small mistakes, as all the characters performed with energy and pure enthusiasm. I was really drawn in to these musical numbers and would like to congratulate the cast for their obvious commitment. My one criticism was of those performers who entered through the side door. The noise and curtain movement was quite distracting.

Another fantastic addition to the story was the Rastapilla. What a wonderful idea and very well performed in a two-person costume. This was a delightful scene with Richard Wilson as the Rastapilla and Maria Crocker as the ‘chilled’ cricket. Both actors gave wonderfully entertaining performances.

It wouldn’t be Alice in Wonderland without 'The Mad Hatter's Tea Party' and we were treated to two! During the interval, which is held in the delightful but rather chilly Long Gallery, I was wowed by a stunning tea party laid out for the audience to attend. It was a very special touch and certainly entertained both younger and older audience members alike. This theme continued as we re-entered the theatre to see a tea-party scene now set on stage. The perfect duo of 'The Mad Hatter', played by John Hawkins and 'The March Hare', played by Lynne Smith, performed with every ounce of comedic timing and pure comic indulgence. 'The Dormouse', played by David Spencer, completed the ensemble perfectly.

After a long journey through Wonderland Alice finally battles the Queen in a game of croquet. This Spectacular climax to Abba’s ‘Mama Mia’ was performed in slow motion, a genius touch. It really drew us in with suspense and excitement, as Alice dramatically defeated the Queen of Hearts.

The Cards performed remarkably through the production, singing, dancing, changing set and all acted extremely well. One of the best choruses I have seen in any pantomime. Very well done to all.

A special mention must go to Eileen Bagshaw, who held the whole play together as narrator, playing a fantastically funny character. She kept the audience constantly amused.

As we came to the end of the play, back in the real world, Alice was met by her true love and we were treated to a beautiful rendition of ‘Keep Holding On’. At first I was slightly concerned by the lack of music, but once the song had got going it was truly stunning, beautifully sung by Lydia and a select chorus. I was surprised and moved by the performance.

This production was extremely enjoyable, well written, very well performed and knowledgeably put together. The lighting, set, costume and sound all working perfectly in harmony. All involved should be praised.

Christopher Harries - 19/1/2012
Arts Reporter
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