Review: Alice in Wonderland, Sherman Theatre

The Sherman Theatre have finally let their Christmas show out into the world! This year, from Friday 23rd of November to Saturday 29th of December, you can catch Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland at the Sherman theatre. I was lucky enough to see the show on its press night to see how Rachel O’Riordan’s direction combined with Mike Kenny’s writing to bring Alice in Wonderland to life. I’ll be reviewing this whole production including the cast, characters, design and also the style of the adaptation.

Elian West’s characterisation of Alice was a stand-out point. I feel that the change to Alice’s age, from a girl of 7 years old to a girl presumably going through her GCSE exams (15-16 years old), allowed West to seemingly effortlessly combine the mannerisms of a younger girl with the likability of a girl who grows to know her own mind. This is where I feel that Kenny’s adaptation shines as the idea of Alice going through her exams is an interesting way to partner up the characters in the real world with those in Wonderland but in a believable way. While I did really like how the trail was worked into the exam, the ending does not have a stark explanation of when Alice came home, if it was when she was still in the exam or when at home, the ending with her family is very heartwarming. I also thought that this ending was a good way to incorporate the Welsh language.

The exam set has also incorporated the ticking which was present in the auditorium prior to the show which I liked a lot, but I wish that this was incorporated far more into the character of the White Rabbit to further tie in the exam setting. The set also effortlessly blended the several settings of the show between Alice’s house, the exam hall, Wonderland and the garden. It was a very well done set, while very traditional for a production of Alice in Wonderland, but the moving pieces were very intriguing.

As I went into this show completely blind to the style of the adaptation I had no idea that this show would be a musical adaptation. However, I was very pleasantly surprised. The songs were appropriate to the tone of the scene in which they were included in and I enjoyed all of them. However, my favourite has to go to Alice’s song which is used at multiple points in the show. Unfortunately, there were some microphone issues during the song for Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, however, the actual music more than made up for this. The cast is all also incredibly talented in helping out with the creation of this music as each of them plays at least one instrument, if not more.

Joseph Tweedale gives an energetic performance as the White Rabbit which gives an effortless transition between his real-world character and the Wonderland character. Also, Hannah McPake’s performance as the Queen of Hears provided standout moments. Her character is the closest to the recognisable character from the source material and McPake’s portrayal was amazing.

James Ifan’s portrayal of the Mad Hatter was also very interesting. His segment of the tea party had the most concrete and obvious meaning to take away from the nonsensical tone and it was a meaning I really liked. I would recommend that this is one of the segments of the show which needs to be seen, so if you are on the fence about going to see this show, please go and see this show to see West, McPake and Ifan bring their characters to life.

The corridor of doors in the first act was a suitably strange introduction to Alice in Wonderland. However, it was strange to have the whole ensemble present for moments which typically present Alice on her own, especially when all they do is copy her movements. When the ensemble is creating the music it works, however, when the ensemble is constantly part of her actions it lessens the surprise of the episodic nature which allows recognisable characters, like the Mad Hatter, to appear at random in future segments like the trail. I will make it clear for anyone coming to this show from the standpoint of loving the original novel, the fanciful nonsense nature is very easily incorporated, but they’re taken out all of the darker elements and the show is a very good child-friendly adaptation of the nonsense of the course material. This is certainly a really good introduction for children both into the story and into theatre as the humorous toes the line between musical and pantomimes so it could be a good transition piece.

It was interesting to see this adaptation add fanciful aspects to the source material. For example, they slightly break the fourth wall when addressing Elin Phillips playing both Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat. This production changes the Caterpillar to changing into the Cheshire Cat, which they do not do for the other actors who double up their roles.

The humour is very on the nose and I think it’s a very particular sense of humour which focuses on some slapstick and exact comments. Personally, I did not find it as humorous as others around me but I found the second act quite a bit funnier, therefore, I think it really depends on your own personal sense of humour. As I mentioned earlier, if you are bringing children to the show I think they will find it very funny as I said it could provide a good transition between pantomime and traditional musical theatre.

Overall, the cast of this production is amazingly talented. They provide interesting portrayals while also playing multiple instruments to portray the interesting music by Lucy Rivers. This cast and score combined will provide an excellent night out, however, I would recommend bringing children along so that they can be introduced to musical theatre through a fanciful adaptation of Lewis Caroll’s classic.

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