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Alice in Wonderland, Live! - Athenneaum Theatre (VIC)

Directed by Penny Farrow


Reviewed by Annika Loci Athenneaum Theatre January, 2023


3.5 STARS


Alice in Wonderland is the classic fantasy novel by Lewis Carroll, written in 1865, which has been explored, adapted and reinterpreted for many years through multiple forms of media. After multiple pre-covid seasons across Australia and internationally, this bright and playful version has returned to the Melbourne’s Athenneaum stage once more. With Broadway Producer Ethan Walker and Australian director Penny Farrow’s adaption attracting audiences of newcomers and fans alike to the timeless family story.


From the moment you enter the theatre, the pre-show lighting design, sounds of birds chirping and the visual of the set looks like the illustration of the book helps to create the immersive feeling of a magical fairytale that was about to take place, preparing audiences to jump down the rabbit hole with Alice.


With a cast of only eight, it’s very impressive that between them they bring up to 20 characters to life, with most in multiple roles, and some very quick costume changes and puppetry added. The wonderful creative costume design has been the creation of international award winning Diana Eden and one of Australia’s leading costumers Gayle MacGregor. They are certainly a highlight of this production with much thought given to appropriate use of colour and design for such well-known characters, scenes, and acknowledging the authenticity from the novel.


UK leading designer Chris Barlow and Australian Dieter Barry, have enhanced the costumes and story through the use of puppetry for some of the animals and props. The cast effectively integrated Barlow and Barry’s puppetry, especially when the Cheshire Cat appeared with his fabulous big bright grin getting audiences excited. Unfortunately in this adaptation we only come across the Cheshire cat once with the Caterpillar in an almost forgettable scene.


Farrow’s adaption has narrowed down the production to the core story plots and favourite scenes to a surprising but ideal run time of 60mins, which is perfect for youngsters.


In some sections Alice’s story is supported by narrators to help context, but not in other scenes and it does seem to run at a bit of a rapid pace. Farrow’s version uses an interwoven combination of Carroll’s clever semi-nonsense poetry and regular English dialogue. In an attempt to celebrate the playfulness of Carroll’s language, Farrow has sourced characters, dialogue, and poems from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking-Glass, The Hunting of the Snark and Rhyme? And Reason?, opening the play with a well-known section from Jabberwocky. This, for fans of Carroll, will very much be enjoyed and appreciated. Though on the other hand, this could very much confuse those not familiar or with only the basic knowledge of Carroll’s other works. Without a program or information on the website, audiences were unable to know Farrow’s vision.


With such as small cast, you can see the team work that is required to happen both on and off stage. Ewyon Turner handled the role as Alice embracing the childlike qualities and at the same time the intense language of Carroll like an expert, being the youngest ever cast member to this production. Cast standouts included Simon Burvell-Holmes as the fearsome over the top, but humorous Queen of Hearts; Catherine Glavicic as Mad Hatter alongside Nicholas Jaquinot as March Hare. Glavicic and Jaquinot have a great chemistry together and excellent characterisation in the Hatters Tea Party scene, with the standout moment being a rapping Hare and beatboxing Hatter and Dormouse. Although all cast clearly put all their energy into multiple characters, humour often was hit and miss, especially in earlier scenes, with the bulk of the humour carried by the Queen and parts of the Tea Party scene.


Being a much smaller production, designed to do limited runs, there’s significant limitations to the set, props and sections of the story, with it producing an occasional pantomime feel. With the set never changing and only a toadstool used as the main non-handheld prop, there is the reliance on lighting design, background music and sound effects to indicate scene changes and to engage one’s imagination.


Overall, this production of Alice in Wonderland despite limitations, a number of awkward or confusing moments, is a quality professional production. Adults and children will enjoy seeing all their favourite Alice in Wonderland characters come to life as the magic of Lewis Carroll’s stories always remain entertaining.

 

CREATIVES PENNY FARROW | WRITER & DIRECTOR ETHAN WALKER | EXECUTIVE PRODUCER EVAN JOLLY | COMPOSER CHRIS BARLOW | PUPPET DESIGNER & BUILDER DEITER BARRY | PROPS & PUPPET DESIGNER GAYLE MACGREGOR | COSTUMING DIANA EDEN | COSTUMING

CAST ÉWYON TURNER | ALICE LUCY FOX | WHITE RABBIT SIMON BURVELL-HOLMES | QUEEN OF HEARTS & CHESHIRE CAT CATHERINE GLAVICIC | MAD HATTER JACKSON MCGOVERN | CATERPILLAR & DORMOUSE NICHOLAS JAQUINOT | MARCH HARE JUSTINE ANDERSON | TWEEDLE DUM MATILDA SIMMONS | TWEEDLE DEE

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