Alice in Wonderland

‘Alice in Wonderland’ is a 1932 adaption of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by British-born playwright, stage actress, producer, director, translator and author, Eva Le Gallienne. For her Peter Pan performance, Le Gallienne was a Broadway star by age 21, but during the 1929 stock market crash she retired from Broadway to devote herself to her own 1100-seat Repertory Theatre becoming a theatrical coach, producer and manager. Eva was famous for her lifestyle, which in the 30s and 40s was headline making. This Tony Award-winner and Oscar nominee was a lesbian libertine becoming involved with several married actresses.

There have been some atrocious interpretations of ‘Alice’ as plays and pantomimes, but this traditional version is one of the best.

One of WA’s most respected theatre companies, Stray Cats Theatre and their sister group ADAPT Performance Training, are presenting this intriguingly lively, fast-paced and eccentric interpretation of an all-time favourite for the whole family. This 2-hour show is playing in the Main Theatre at the Mandurah Performing Arts Centre, with curtain-up at 7.00 pm on Friday and Saturday night. Saturday and Sunday both have a 2.00 pm matinée. There is an extra show on Sunday morning at 10.30.

This play was intended to be presented in the much smaller Fishtrap Theatre, but due to Covid the maximum audience figure was economically impractical. Thanks to the strong support of the MPAC management group, the show has been moved to the larger theatre so please understand why the quality scenery that was made for the smaller stage is now being employed on the larger stage.

With licence fees to pay to the playwrights and hire fees for the use of the theatre (even though the Performance Centre has been sympathetic) it still makes ANY production difficult at the moment. MANY thanks to Spare Cats for going ahead with this children’s wonderful interpretation of this classic at great personal cost for the producers.

Lighting design: Karen Francis and MPAC, lots of colour and exciting effects. The choice of Projections varied from wallpaper, snow scenes and woodland. The door size changed with the food intake of Alice. Excellent visual work by Alan White.

Sound technician: MPAC operated the lively music selected by Karen Francis and Ashleigh Riley

Headset microphones controller, Libby Askew

Set design and artwork by Bronwyn White and Karen Francis. Set building was by Peter Francis, Mal Thompson, Duncan Anderson and Tony Holding. The painting and decorating by Karen Francis, Bronwyn White, Samantha Richards, Lyn Tamplin, Aidan Thomas, Michelle Thompson, Ella Thompson, Charlie Baker, Lachlan McNeil, Georgia Turner, Ashleigh Riley, Kerry Tarbuck, Carole Spicer and Jeanette Southall. Yes, a huge amount of work, but scenes like mushrooms and kitchen were particularly good. The most effective, colourful woodland trees looked like lignified people.

The stage managers – as though did not have enough to do already – are Ashleigh Riley and Karen Francis, assisted by Teaghan Lowry and Matthias Zver of the physical theatre workshop. Backstage crew included Royce Newall, Sophie Newall, Samuel Taylor, Elizabeth Rowland-Blyth and Karen Francis

The superb programme photography and poster designs are by Kristie Hennessy

A 12-years-old girl named Alice (Rhiannon Francis) sits near the fireplace when suddenly, a distinguished White Rabbit (Tom Wilson – wonderful) rushes past her, fretting to himself about how late he is. Alice instinctively follows him down a rabbit hole; at the end of the tunnel she finds herself in a long hall, surrounded by locked doors of all sizes. Alice finds a key and opens the tiniest door of all, but she is too big to fit through.

                Alice then discovers a bottle labelled ‘Drink Me’. She feels herself shrinking, and becomes the right size for the door, but cannot reach the key. A cake appears labelled ‘Eat Me’; she eats it and grows too much As she cries, her tears form a pool. She shrinks again and is swept up by the pool. Alice finds the swimming pool is occupied by some other swimmers, including a Mouse (Ella Thompson), who Alice tries to befriend but only frightens by talking about her cat, Dinah. The animals try drying on the shore of the pool. A wise bird, a Dodo (Sienna Gardyne) suggests a Caucus-race, that strangely everybody wins.

                The White Rabbit having lost his gloves, returns and mistakes Alice for his maid. Alice finds another cake, so she eats it hoping to grow back to her original size, she shrinks again and escapes out of the Rabbit’s house and into a nearby forest.

                Here, Alice meets an Eaglet (Keely Hockley) and a Duck (Monique Butchart), then a strange Caterpillar (Dylan Randall),  who sits on top of a magic mushroom smoking a hookah. He asks Alice about her identity. Alice is confused so tries to recite a nursery rhyme, but it comes out jumbled up. She swoops around above the forest and sees a little house with a Frog Footman (Daniel Pais) outside. who has received an invitation for the a very ugly relation of the Queen Hearts (Sheryl Gale – gets better with every production) terrorizes Wonderland with constant threats of execution, though these threats are never carried out.

The Duchess (Sophia Askevold) is nursing a pig-baby whilst a Cook (Sheryl Gale) and her assistant (Sophie Newall) is having a temper tantrum. Everyone is sneezing because of the pepper the cook is sprinkling everywhere. The Duchess is in a terrible mood and flings the baby at Alice. Alice takes the baby outside to save it from the cook’s flying pots and pans, and meets the Cheshire Cat (puppeteers Keely Hockley, Monique Butchart, Abby Tamplin, Emily Tamplin) a large, smiling cat with the power to vanish and appear whenever he likes.

The Cat helps Alice find her way. He says that in one direction lives the Hatter (Alex White) for whom time has frozen at six o’clock, so it is always tea-time. The other way is the March Hare (Amy Elliott). He enjoys frustrating Alice, for example offering her wine when there is none. They are both mad.

Alice finds the Hare is having a tea party with the Hatter and a sleepy friend, Dormouse (Lachlan McNeil) who  lives on the tea table. The Hatter asks Alice a riddle. When Alice gets fed up with not being listened to, she leaves the party and finds herself in a beautiful garden, meeting some gardeners who look like playing cards, anxiously painting the Queen of Hearts’ rose bushes.

                The Queen of Hearts takes Alice to join in the croquet game, using flamingos and hedgehogs as mallets and balls. The Queen thinks Alice ought to meet the Mock-Turtle (Aidan Thomas – beautiful voice) a sorrowful figure, who sits with his old friend the Gryphon (Georgia Turner), reminiscing by the sea. He remembers his old schoolteachers and his youth. The Mock-Turtle tells them his story and soon remembers the Lobster Quadrille. Alice then starts to tell her story and again finds that she has lost her memory. They are interrupted by the sound of the Queen loudly commencing the Knave’s trial.

                The court room is filled with the creatures Alice has met in Wonderland. The King of Hearts (Dylan Randall) is a servant to the Queen’s violent whims. The White Rabbit tells of the Knave’s crime. He is accused of stealing tarts that the Queen made. The first witness is the Mad Hatter who begins to describe the day in question, then to Alice’s astonishment, she is called as final witness.

We are treated to seeing Humpty dumpty (Mary Castle) and other notables, the White Queen (Amy Elliott – a genuine French accent, so rare), White Knight (Alex White), Tweedle-dee (Lachlan McNeil) and Tweedledum (Aidan Thomas – great double act), the sheep who is knitting her own wool (Charlie Baker), Palace train guards (Royce Newall, Samuel Taylor) protector of the Red Queen (Georgia Turner, powerful).

The outstanding choreography is by Ashleigh Riley who is still on the right side of thirty and yet has a resume that many would kill for. Her routines for the Tea Party, Flamingo Croquet and the Lobster Quadrille are ingenious. Having good ideas is one thing but you then need to get the cast to perform well. Not always easy, however this young cast put every ounce (28.35 grams for the kids – a Granddad comment) of energy into the complex dances. They smiled and each had quirky interactions. Well done.

Thanks to the inventive make-up artist, Jodie Mars and the hard working costumières Cathy Wainwright, Linda Lowry, Sheryl Gale, Georgia Turner, Kim Parker, Pat Francis, Karen Francis and Sophie Newall, the characters were instantly recognisable. Every costume was not simply ‘that will do’ but each had great detail and many extras added such as the Gryphon’s wings. Wonderful props; loved the flamingos. Sheryl Gale, Charlie Baker, Karen Francis, Samuel Taylor, Amy Elliott and Georgia Turner.

The amazing 2-metre-high and 5-metre long Cheshire Cat was jaw dropping, requiring three or four operators. As well as the biggest grin, it had warm glowing mauve eyes. Well done Bronwyn White, Peter Francis, Lyn Tamplin, Mike Tamplin and Samantha Richards

Director Karen Francis was not quite bald, but her hair was disappearing rapidly. Having to move from a small stage to the 800-seat auditorium was not easy but very necessary. This allows about three times the audience. Even though Karen is a hard task master, her cast adored her and were enthusiastic about any responsibilities given to them. Many of the cast are still teenagers and several experiencing their first main stage appearance; however, such is the quality of the direction and acting that one could not spot a single beginner.

Rhiannon Francis had a delightful style of delivery. Her portrayal of Alice as a young innocent, with diction that drew the children into listening and paying attention was perfect for this play.

There are still seats available for this magnificent show. Even if the children do not get the clever script of puns, they will love the bright, and at times outrageous, costumes and makeup. I have extended the review to give more of the story should a parent wish to tell their children in advance what will happen.

A must see show for the family and kids over about 6 yrs.