Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – The Lyceum Theatre

Delightfully dark, witty, and above all visually stunning, The Lyceum’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a classic take on the whimsical children’s story that will delight both young and old. The Lyceum’s season under the new Artistic Directorship of David Greig has gone from strength to strength, with the theatre simply oozing artistic brilliance and fun. Alice in Wonderland is no exception, with all elements of the show, from costume, to set, to performance, to music – drawing the famous tale together in a play that is simply enthralling.

Delightfully dark, witty, and above all visually stunning, The Lyceum’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a classic take on the whimsical children’s story that will delight both young and old.

The opening scene is exotic and engaging, with a huge bright sun, raised circular glassy platform and singing cast drawing us into the story. Alice’s discourse with Carrol, her schoolmaster, immediately sets the tone of the whole piece, as absurd rhymes lifted directly from the book are never shied away from and are performed easily by the talented cast throughout. Alice’s journey through absurd Wonderland sees her meet a delightful array of bizarre characters – from the nightmarishly huge, half blind and rabid looking white rabbit, to the exotic and silvertongued caterpillar – performed perfectly by Zoë Hunter – mounted high on a mushroom.

The costumes are a complete highlight, with small details on each providing humour and a kind of morbid, nightmarish terror simultaneously. In particular, as well as the above, the fish, gryphon, mock turtle and dormouse are simply stunning to look at. Unfortunately the Hatter and Alice’s costumes are slightly lacking when compared to the others, though the show does not particularly suffer for it, as other visual elements more than make up for it.

The costumes are a complete highlight, with small details on each providing humour and a kind of morbid, nightmarish terror simultaneously.

All senses are immersed. In particular, the hilarious pepper soup sequence with the Duchess’ bizarre singing, which takes place within a fully furnished kitchen, is hilarious, with adult jokes keeping the whole audience amused, whilst simple puns keep the story ticking along nicely. Alan Francis, playing the Duchess amongst other characters, is comical throughout, and provides a much-needed antidote to many darker elements of the play, particularly in the second half during the trial and court scene with its talk of decapitation and animal murder.

Pacing is at times an issue, with the second half certainly being weaker than the first – which, perhaps, is not the fault of the show itself – it’s difficult to match the bizarre interactions Alice has when first meeting Wonderland’s inhabitants – but it is marked, though is certainly saved by a deliciously understated performance by Gabriel Quigley as the Queen of Hearts, who is just so effortlessly watchable.

Another scene that suffers here is the tea party scene, which, inserted in just before the end of the first half, might have benefitted from being entirely in the second, as the energy was certainly lacking, and was not really bolstered by Tam Dean Burn’s performance as the Mad Hatter, who, I expect through no fault of his own, didn’t have a huge amount to work with and so was slightly lost amongst the other general madness of Wonderland. However, in these rare situations, Jess Peet, playing Alice, proved herself to be a promising and punchy performer, handling the great stage of the Lyceum with grace and ease.

Mainstream political issues are sometimes mentioned, and an absolute highlight of the whole show was the hugely enjoyable scene between the impossibly talented Isobel McArthur as the Mock Turtle and David Carlylye as the Gryphon. Their banners – ‘Stop the (S)laughter – are dark and thought-provoking – whilst Carlyle’s deadpan performance in his lavish feathered costume is simply faultless – his dancing in the court scene had the whole audience in stitches. The chemistry between the duo is electric – you really could watch them do a whole show on their own, so absolute hats off to the pair.

…the impossibly talented Isobel McArthur as the Mock Turtle and David Carlylye as the Gryphon

Another performance that I simply must mention is Zoë Hunter, again, as the fish, who is charmingly endearing as the ditsy fish footman – something about it really did tickle the audience pink, and display Hunter’s clear talents as a versatile performer. Sadly, the Cheshire Cat was in graphic form only – a technical decision throughout that didn’t work quite as well, and slightly lost the complete suspension of disbelief that the show normally so effortlessly captured.

Overall, the show is a delight – a completely immersive feast for the senses that is carried along nicely by scenery, costumes and thoughtful performances. If you and your family do nothing else this Christmas, hop along to The Lyceum and jump down the rabbit hole of this wonderful show.

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Lucy Davidson

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