On a freezing cold night in December a play was staged. A play that told of wondrous creatures and of things beyond imagining. A play in which the ordinary every day cares of the audience were suspended for a while as they entered a land of talking caterpillars, a beautiful blue cat, flamingos and hedgehogs, a turtle with a heavy load, a Queen with a nasty temper, a crazy Mad Hatter, and a little girl who having lost her brother in an accident dreams her way out of her sadness.
Yes folks, It’s Alice in Wonderland, but not quite as you know it. This is Alice, by Laura Wade, adapted from Lewis Carroll’s famous tale. It’s a show that draws heavily upon the talents of the theatre’s young drama class participants and places them alongside some of the Criterion’s more familiar faces, giving them a chance to gain experience in the spotlight. It’s a good-hearted romp through a classic tale, spiced up with music from the Arctic Monkeys.
In the show I saw, Ella Moorley played Alice, a slightly morose child of 12, who, gripped by sadness, refuses to come out of her room. But while she may not feel like communicating with the grown-ups who are gathered for her brother’s funeral, her imagination is at work, and it is this that eventually sets her free. Instead of discovering the rabbit hole, here the white rabbit pops up unannounced and takes her on a dreamlike journey down through Wonderland where she must learn her way back into the world and a new life and confidence. The lesson, ultimately, is that through following her own imagination she can find strength in herself and see the world anew.
Alice is a bold choice for young actors, some of whom I would guess might not have been on stage before. It’s an epic tale, and though I gather it had been cut from the original three hours, it was still a tad too long at two hours. But there was much to enjoy along the way. Some star turns were evident: the grinning Cheshire Cat (Kelly Davidson) and Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Alexandra Vickers and Daisy-Mae Sweatman) were among my favourites. A great deal of doubling-up was done, most of the young actors playing two or three parts, and the costume and props departments were clearly kept busy. Veteran actors from the Criterion’s ample crew were there to provide the firm foundations: I liked Lilian McGrath’s colourful Queen Mother and Hannah Patricia’s testy Queen, and also Anne-Marie Green’s Duchess and Mock Turtle.
The Criterion is always generous in its support for young theatre practitioners and to the community generally, and in devoting their Christmas production to a platform for the next generation did them and everyone else a good turn. Much may come out of this production, much that we cannot predict. For with imagination there is always hope, as the audience were clearly aware, as they responded with an enthusiasm that matched that on stage.
Alice runs until Saturday December 17. Visit criteriontheatre.co.uk or call 024 7667 4719 to book.