Although she is best known as a judge of the original Australian reality television series So You Think You Can Dance, Producer Bonnie Lythgoe has since 2014 been delighting children and adults around Australia with her spectacular traditional pantomimes often starring well-known stage and television personalities of the calibre of Todd McKenney, Rhonda Burchmore, Richard Reid, Lucy Durack and Magda Szubanski.
However her choice for the 2024 tour is an enchanting version of the Lewis Carroll classic, Alice In Wonderland for which she eschews celebrity casting in favour of accomplished multi-talented character-actors equipped with the talents necessary to bring Penny Farrow’s brilliantly conceived version of this classic tale to life.
For her version of this well-loved tale, writer/ director, Farrow has drawn on characters, dialogue and poems from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking-Glass, The Hunting of the Snark and other of Carroll’s writings to create a magical production which joyously captures her playful delight in exploiting the quirks of the English language.
Farrow’s production commences with the characters speaking Jabberwocky, a language which no doubt confused her young audience, and many of those considerably older. But as the audience becomes familiar with the parade of quirky characters who take Alice on her wonderful journey down the rabbit-hole, Jabberwocky soon becomes perfectly normal.
Eight excellent actors share umpteen roles together with a multitude of adorable puppets, which move through the story so quickly that it feels like a cast of thousands. Eowyn Turner is a perfectly well-mannered Alice scampering over giant toad-stools with exactly the correct degree of delightful insouciance and precocious curiosity to keep the audience on her side as she challenges the gleeful pomposity of Simon Burvell-Holmes’ over-bearing Queen of Hearts, the argumentative silliness of Justine Anderson and Matilda Simmons’ Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, and the wondrously costumed caterpillar of Anthony Craig whose transformation into a beautiful butterfly drew spontaneous applause from the captivated audience.
The production values through-out are quite wonderful with Ethan Walker providing multiple story-book costumes for the characters who inhabit Nate Bertone’s magically lit settings which enable the succession of gasp-inducing special effects creating the succession of classic scenes.
The Mad-hatter’s tea party; the crazy croquet game played with flamingos and hedgehogs; the simple, but very effective shrinking of Alice, the marvellous grinning Cheshire Cat and the overly-anxious white rabbit are all there, enhanced by a delightfully evocative musical score by Evan Jolly.
This wonderfully theatrical production is guaranteed to send young readers scurrying to their libraries to obtain the source material and rediscover the many captivating characters emanating from Lewis Carroll’s fertile imagination. It is touring widely, so when it comes your way don’t miss it.
Alice In Wonderland
Canberra Theatre Centre, Civic Square, Canberra
Performance: Monday 8 January 2024
The production will be presented in Adelaide (12 & 13 January), Brisbane (2 & 3 April), Toowoomba (8 April), Caloundra (10 April) and Townsville (12 & 13 April). For more information, visit: www.aliceinwonderlandlive.com for details.
Image: Alice In Wonderland – photo by Robert Catto
Review: Bill Stephens OAM