Lyric Theatre, Belfast – until 5 January 2019
Guest reviewer: Damien Murray
Twenty years after I first reviewed its premiere production at the venue, Paul Boyd is back at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre with a reworked and updated version of his successful and inventive musical adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic about Alice’s dream-like journey into the wild and wacky world of Wonderland.
While the zany characters of Wonderland with their impressive costumes (thanks to designers Gillian Lennox and Erin Charteris) combine with Boyd’s predominately pop-orientated and catchy score to please the children, there is plenty here to engage adults too; not least the topicality of the piece with many character and scenario parallels to the on-going, and equally bewildering, Brexit situation.
Since its premiere, this acclaimed show has performed throughout the UK and in theatres as far away as America and Japan… and it is easy to see why.
Offering an alternative to pantomime, it is a perfect family treat for the Festive period, but – not having any seasonal restrictions – remains an equally relevant retelling of a classic at any time of the year.
Played out on Stuart Marshall’s relatively open set, with lots of attractive graphics from the story, and under Paul Keogan’s deceptively simple, but highly effective, lighting plot, this seamless, energetic and fast-paced production allows no respite for the hard-working cast.
Indeed, it is hard to believe that such a complex show can be staged so effortlessly by such a small cast (only seven in number!) and they deserve full credit for, even on a double show day, not cutting of corners or lack of commitment from anyone at the matinee performance I attended.
In the role of a narrator, Charlotte McCurry’s ever-watching Cheshire Cat guides us through the dream-like adventures with a high degree of vocal clarity, while Christina Nelson’s suitably scatty White Rabbit adds to the wonderful sense of confusion in Wonderland throughout.
As the soft-spoken and gentle Alice, Ruby Campbell is aptly confused and bewildered and deservedly wins the affections of the younger audience members from an early stage, while Allison Harding’s pompous and impatient Queen of Hearts represents the opposite end of the personality spectrum.
In multiple roles, the trio of male actors, Mark Dugdale (The Caterpillar and Mad Hatter), Adam Dougal (Tweedledee, The March Hare and The White Knight) and Rea Campbell-Hill (Tweedledum, Dormouse and The King Of Hearts) are all equally talented.
Dugdale excels both as the flamboyantly dressed Mad Hatter and as the popular Caterpillar who, as a butterfly in waiting, is at a disadvantage because of his fear of heights and his air sickness.
While Dougal is superb as the eccentric and not so inventive White Knight, a stand-out moment of the show is when he teams up with Campbell-Hill, as the theatrical and entertainment duo, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, to deliver a great two-man routine.
Other highlights here include the theatricality of the ‘shrinking’ scene and the highly entertaining Tea Party scene.
With no ensemble or dancers to help them, the seven cast members are not only uniformly good actors but are also, by necessity, all exceptionally strong singers and dancers and they all do justice to Deborah Maguire’s decisive choreography and to Boyd’s knowing direction and musical direction of his varied and pre-recorded score.
As a perfect alternative to pantomime, this inventive, colourful, entertaining and story-based production will engage the entire family (except, perhaps, those under 3) with its well-known and well-loved characters and dream-like adventures.
Nothing makes sense in the wacky world of Wonderland, but it would be equally senseless if you were to miss this magical musical … and they will welcome you, even if your name is not Alice!
Alice: The Musical runs at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast until Saturday 5th January, 2019
Photo credit: Melissa Gordon