Alice in Wonderland

PYMBLE PLAYERS: This year’s Christmas production at Pymble Players is an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's 'Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland'. Performed with a younger audience in mind (and for those of us who are young at heart), this is an energetic and entertaining play with an almost pantomime feel to it, perfect for the silly season.
Alice in Wonderland
This year’s Christmas production at Pymble Players is an adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Performed with a younger audience in mind (and for those of us who are young at heart), this is an energetic and entertaining play with an almost pantomime feel to it, perfect for the silly season. Carroll’s classic tale takes its heroine Alice down a rabbit hole and into a land full of bizarre and colourful characters. She meets a disappearing Cheshire Cat and a hookah-smoking caterpillar, attends the Mad Hatter’s tea party to celebrate an 'unbirthday' and plays croquet with the Queen of Hearts using flamingos as mallets. The story is considered the first piece of surreal literature, which Carroll wrote for the entertainment of three sisters, one of whom was called Alice. An immediate success upon its publication in 1865, it's since been performed countless times on stage and made into dozens of films. Quite a lot to live up to, but this production is certainly no slouch. The driving force behind the show is director Anne Wilson, who's laboured on her version over the last two years. Most impressively, she's managed to successfully adapt this much-loved classic within the limits of a confined space, a short (child-friendly) running time and a small cast. Her creative vision also extends to both the lighting and stage design, and her level of ingenuity in tackling the story's more fantastical elements allows the play to stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the best productions of Carroll's work. Some of her solutions are deceptively simple: the effect of Alice growing and shrinking, for example, is achieved by manipulating the size of her shadow with a footlight. The actors are likewise used to great effect: the caterpillar, played principally by Eleanor Raftery, is also made up of six pairs of white-gloved hands, gesticulating rhythmically, and the rest of the cast similarly help out the grinning Cheshire Cat (Diane Howden) by tangling Alice in a giant cat's cradle during their encounter later in the show. Indeed, most of the cast play numerous characters, lifting small but effective costume changes from the surrounding scenery. One moment Kim Ho is a crab wearing long gloves for pincers and scuttling across the stage, the next he's a frog crouching beneath a cap with two woollen bobbles for eyes, before transforming again with another quick change of headgear into the Mad Hatter himself! This approach maintains the play's momentum throughout, never allowing the spell to be broken and childish minds (my own, for example) to wander. Ten in all, the cast range from their forties down to the tender age of eight, and the group works together like a well-oiled teapot. Stand-outs include Robert Pelletier as Humpty Dumpty and Julie Moore as the Queen of Hearts, who delivers her trademark line 'Off with their heads' with particular relish. Bathed in blood-red light, she makes a suitably dramatic entrance to the accompaniment of the signature music from Psycho and loud gasps from younger members of the audience. Sasha Meaney gives a strong performance as Alice, and while (understandably) struggling at times to compete with the scene-stealing characters around her, she grew into the role as the play went on and will no doubt continue to do so throughout the production's run. After the show, the cast leads the way outside where the audience are treated to lollipops. This allowed me the opportunity to meet the Queen of Hearts in person, and still in character, and make the acquaintance of her husband the king – a sock puppet on her hand. If sock puppets and lollipops don't do it for you, well, you must be off your head already! Buy yourself a ticket before this delightful show disappears down the rabbit hole on the 18th. Alice in Wonderland Presented by Pymble Players Inc Plays until 18 December For more information visit the ArtsHub Events page.

Joan Beal

Wednesday 15 December, 2010

About the author

Joan Beal is a keen theatregoer. She works in book publishing and lives in Sydney with her husband and two cats.