Australian Shakespeare Company presents Alice in Wonderland & The Wind in the Willows (VIC)
Reviewed by Annika Loci
The Australian Shakespeare Company (ASC), Melbourne, presents a selection of family friendly theatre productions for the 2024 summer school holidays including Alice in Wonderland and the well-known Melbourne summer staple Wind in the Willows. With the work of its brilliant production teams, they present excellent introduction for youngsters (and those young at heart) to experience the world of pantomime theatre, magic and make believe.
At the heart of any pantomime is the larger than life portrayal of characters. Through exemplary vocal manipulation and physical acting, which is integrated together with bright, bold and creative costumes, props, and set design/staging, the ASC have demonstrated their passion and expert skill for this style of storytelling that immediately immerses their audiences into a world full of entertainment.
These beautifully presented productions (both originally adapted and directed by Glenn Elston OAM) are highly recommended for families this summer holiday season.
For more information and to book, please visit shakespeareaustralia.com.au.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND
The Capitol Theatre, Swanston St, Melbourne
10am, approx. 80mins running time
Playing until 21 January, 2024
With bursts of colour and infectious energy onstage, ASC presents their highly acclaimed production of Alice in Wonderland at The Capitol Theatre (RMIT) in the heart of Melbourne CBD. With many different adaptations of the Lewis Carroll classic, director, Dennis Manahan has taken the original Elston adaptation and presents a highly entertaining pantomime that is easy for children to feel immersed in and understand the story from the moment they enter the theatre. It’s hard not to express wonderment as you are greeted with the Capitol Theatre’s stunning and expansive proscenium arch and ceiling with its changing colours. Audiences are immediately invited to become characters themselves to help the White Rabbit not to be late and assist Alice in her journey through Wonderland.
The passion Elston has for this Carroll classic is evident. The creative and successful use of different trap doors, puppetry and stilt walking, together with a bright interactive set keeps even the youngest on the edge of their seat with anticipation.
Adults need not worry about their “little caterpillars” behaving and staying quiet for the duration. The production provides a wide variety of audience interactions including singing a selection of well-known children’s songs, some movement/dance to wriggle and jiggle about to, mixed with some modern day references (thrown in for the “senior caterpillars”) together with a few other fun adventures (no further spoilers). Manahan has directed a balanced and well-paced, fun theatrical experience that keeps audience members of all ages well engaged for the 80 minute show.
So make a date to follow Alice down the rabbit hole this summer, and share with your “little caterpillars” this beautiful and endearing version of the Lewis Carroll classic.
Australian Shakespeare Company's Alice in Wonderland in Melbourne. Supplied by ASC.
WIND IN THE WILLOWS
Royal Botanical Gardens, Birdwood Ave, Melbourne
10.30am, approx. 90mins running time
Playing until 28th January, 2024
Since 1987, Elston’s adapted version of Wind in the Willows has delighted and entertained over half a million people and has become a well-known family favourite over the summer holidays. This uniquely Australian version is set in the stunning scenic location of the Royal Botanical Gardens. On the banks of the lake and amongst the trees, families of all ages are invited to bring along their picnic rug and nibbles and enjoy the Kenneth Cole classic as it jumps straight off the page into this live immersive setting.
The riverbank adventures of Ratty, Mole, Badger, Otter, Little Portly, and Mr. Toad are led by Head Chief Rabbit (HCR) who introduces the characters and guides the story. This adaption has been created with the intent of storytelling being an interactive experience for children especially. From the beginning children and adults are transformed by HCR into “rabbits” with the Rabbits Song, and thus straight away become part of the story itself. Songs written for Willows are played live, and are easy for children to remember, repeat and participate in with the actions.
With modern references that have many adults giggling away, each year’s version is slightly altered to keep it fresh and entertaining. Brilliant costuming and makeup together with the ASC actors bring their own individual animal interpretations and make for some great improvisation moments. Although actors do their best managing the occasional natural element and human interference, the first scene down by the riverbank (due to the expansive open area) I found more challenging to hear at times and could do with some type of low vocal amplification.
The audience of rabbits “hops” their way up into the second scene at Toad Hall as we are introduced to the world of the hilariously eccentric and over dramatic Mr. Toad and all the high jinx that ensue. The “little rabbits” are continuously integrated into the story, including going off in groups led by the Willow’s animals into the gardens in the search of Portly who’s gone missing. At our show, almost all “little rabbits” went hopping off excitedly whilst most “adult rabbits” enjoyed a short break and were entertained with more music, jokes and improvisation by the very talented and cheeky Rabbit and Weezel. But with the squeals of laughter and noise in the distance, I’m not sure who had the more enjoyable time!
It is not hard to see why audiences return year after year and it is a staple of the Melbourne summer entertainment program. This simplified and interactive version is delightful and a fabulous way to introduce youngsters to the story and families to share in literature. Wind in the Willows is full of adventure, and its antics will keeps you guessing, laughing and thoroughly entertained (just beware of Head Chief Rabbit if you bring carrots to your picnic!).
The Wind in the Willows - Melbourne. Photography by Ben Fon.
Alice in Wonderland
NOTE: All children and adults over 12-months of age require a ticket.
Children under 12-months admitted FREE.
24 December 2023 - 21 January 2024
1 hour 30 mins
113 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000
1 Hour before show start time
OFF PEAK (Tues-Thurs): $30 - $110, PEAK (Fri-Sun): $35 - $130
The Wind in the Willows
05 Jan - 28 Jan 2024
1 Hour 30 Mins
The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney - Near the Main Pond
Performance Location: Near the Main Pond
1 Hour Prior to Show
OFF-PEAK (Wed - Thur): $25 - $90 | PEAK (Fri - Sun): $90 - $110