Alice In Wonderland (review). Anne Cox goes down the rabbit hole

Alice In Wonderland

Alice In Wonderland

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You’ve got carte blanche to let your imagination run wild if you’re going to produce one of English literature’s most eccentric of children’s tales for the stage.

Alice In Wonderland gets curiouser and curiouser as it progresses. It’s like Edward Lear on LSD. Complete nonsense in some places and just downright weird in others.

David Baynes as The Queen of Hearts

David Baynes as The Queen of Hearts

After the success of their Shakespearean heavyweight, Julius Caesar, the Iris Theatre group decided to spend the rest of the summer down a rabbit hole at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden.

Artistic director Daniel Winder has adapted Lewis Carroll’s take on the traumas of growing up by utilising the grounds of The Actors’ Church for another of its promenade productions.

The audience plunges down a makeshift rabbit hole (a light-well, which runs past the backs of the area’s shops- much to the amusement of staff and customers) before surfacing in the surreal and wonderful world of Alice and her chums.

We’re given a foretaste of things to come with a Victorian sideshow featuring a collection of freaks and circus acts. Alice then appears and indulges in the first of her druggie trips throughout the surreal story.

On her, often, nightmarish journey to make sense of who she is, we meet a strange collection of creatures that, outwardly are outrageously comical, but have a terrifying dark side.

The cast of six men and one woman create a strange world where playing cards and eggs indulge in vaudeville skits and the Queen of Hearts becomes a pantomime dame; animals talk and even mock animals deliver their best speeches before an astonished Alice.

It may be too trippy for young children (and, tellingly, there were only three or four young girls at Friday night’s opening) but it’s great fun for adults – so long as you don’t mind sitting on the rough ground at times as the performance moves throughout the church grounds (and getting wet when it rains).

The drama could do with editing down. There are scenes that drag on seemingly for the sake of involving the audience rather than driving the story along. Director Andrew Lynford throws everything at this ambitious production – from a giant one-eyed teddy bear and huge Cheshire Cat to rap and ska musical interludes and a succession of sight gags.

Laura Wickham makes a confident Alice whose voice succeeds in being heard over Covent Garden’s street entertainment taking place just yards away.

The six male actors swap characters throughout. Simon Kent, who locals will have seen in Chapterhouse Theatre productions in Dunstable and Woburn, plays the White Rabbit, plus a series of comedy cameo roles; Daniel Hanna is the sadistic Duchess, Lory, and the grand thespian Mock Turtle while Nick Howard-Brown is unnerving, and quite insane, as the Mad Hatter.

Michael Lynson gets to play a series of animals from the endearing Dormouse, to a frog and The Mouse and Matt Wilman hams it up as The Caterpillar, the King and the Dodo.

But the character who earned the most laughs of the night was David Baynes firstly as the barking mad, March Hare (as an aggressive Glaswegian) before switching to vintage Rik Mayall for the sneering and equally hostile Queen of Hearts.

Iris’s Alice In Wonderland is pure summer panto and just as entertaining as its winter cousin. Go to the company’s website www.irisitheatre.com for ticket details and performance times.

@LBOanne