Avenue Theatre, Ipswich – until 31 December 2018
“Posh panto”, for wincing parents fleeing the rackety showbiz ’n smut of the season, can be a bit chilly – neither one thing nor the other. But Christmas shows can power through both snobbery and the inverted kind, and be a complete delight for all.
I do mean all: Joanna Carrick’s adaptation, a spirited three-hander, is astonishingly faithful to Lewis Carroll’s text and, importantly, spirit; the crankiest Oxford literary historian could find nothing to miss (despite an artful reference to Bake-Off and the fact that Humpty Dumpty, with his finicky use of words and economic illiteracy, just happens to have a Boris Johnson hairdo). It is very Carroll, including a marvellously elegant Victorian nursery set and brilliantly designed costumes by Katy Frost, beautifully echoing Tenniel’s illustrations. Yet a row of tiny pre-schoolers sat entranced for two 40-minute halves, one keenly volunteering as Dormouse and submitting to a ventriloquist’s fake-mouth mask.
Leonie Spilsbury has the right look for Alice and such a smilingly witty gift with the smaller ones that one checks her programme CV and finds that indeed she is no stranger to children’s theatre (in amid Brecht and Ibsen, it’s a varied life).
In her Alice frock she strides and twinkles around, playing the guitar sometimes, confronted by – or collaborating with – Darren Latham and Lawrence Russell as the series of Carroll creatures. Father William, Tweedledum and Dee, Rabbit, a gloriously languid French caterpillar, a stiffly mad Red Queen though not madder than the gorgeous Hatter, a properly barmy Duchess, an Aussie lizard and Dormouse, the good old wallpaper-roll gag, and a Cheshire cat who invaded the audience and lay across the laps of patrons, purring violently. And despite Alice’s “this is not panto”, there is a behind-you and a perilous flinging of jam tarts. Everything for the inner child, and perfect for the outer ones.
www.redrosechain.com to 26th A FEW TICKETS LEFT!!