“It’s Alice with a ‘y’,” (Alys) says the protagonist of The Curious Muchness of Stuff and Nonsense to a puzzled Caterpillar and an equally puzzled audience. It’s Welsh. The ‘welshified’ Alice in Wonderland, written by Hefin Robinson, is a funny and song-filled piece for the pleasure of children.
Odyssey, Hijinx Community Theatre Group, manages to delight its audience, and not just the children in the audience, in their Christmas production. It begins with Alys glued to her phone and being reminded, together with the audience, to switch it off. It’s time for her birthday party. Curious Muchness is very much a party with a large cast of disabled and non-disabled performers from Odyssey and Woodlands High School parading and singing on stage. The piece seeks to tap into contemporary life: the White Rabbit looks for a ‘clever watch’ (smart watch), the Caterpillar is a celebrity singer, a lost Alys gets told to check Googlemaps to find her way home, and three former Queen’s servants demand their jobs back.
Curious Muchness is at its best when it plays with Cardiff’s weather and the Welsh language. It is unpretentious light fun for a very young audience. It is the perfect production for the ‘jolly season’. It is Alice in Wonderland with no darkness. The lack of darkness takes away the suspense and the emotional arch. It also poses the question of what is appropriate for children. Should fear really have no place in children’s entertainment? The fantastical theatre (and film) of today is too often an escape into an unthreatening and joyful world. Curious Muchness is no exception. As a child, my favourite scene of Disney’s Snow White was the transformation of the beautiful Queen into a terrifying witch. The darkness of folk stories is not just to scare, but to let us travel safely into the unknown. Dark stories are a journey into our unconscious, filled with fears, dangers, and dreams, made safe by knowing that it is only our imagination, a shared dream, that is always resolved at the end by going back to our conscious state. We go back with a deeper sense of who we are.