Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Review by Stephanie Green | 05 Dec 2016

A treat. What better way to celebrate the festive season than this rambunctious, zany version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland written and directed by Anthony Neilson plus songs by Nick Powell, puppets and spell-binding special effects. With all the topsy-turvy logic, the vivid colours of a dream, it gets curiouser and curiouser.

Birdsong, fairground lights and music introduce a golden Edwardian summer and picnickers as a boat comes gliding by and we’re in Alice’s world. There’s all the well-known riddles, word play, puns, philosophical and logical conundrums adults remember but made hugely enjoyable for children too: plenty of slapstick, spiralling into sheer silliness – just what the seven year olds in the audience adore. Particularly hilarious are the distinctive walks of animal characters, notably the White Rabbit’s shimmy.

Staying close to Carroll’s original, there are some inspired changes: The Rev Dodgson (Carroll’s real name), not Alice’s sister, sends her to sleep and the trial, not about stolen tarts, but a Mock Turtle soup recipe. A large sun, also a screen, shows great animations: Alice’s descent down the rabbit hole, and the Cheshire Cat’s floating grin. Alice’s changing size is wonderfully done (but no spoilers here).

The costumes are stunning, in particular the Gryphon’s layered feathers and the striped, furry caterpillar. Enormous hats are a feature, the Duchess’s very like Tenniel – but also tricorne hats with googly, shiny eyes attached for the frog and fish footmen. 

The most well-loved characters are here: the engaging Mad Hatter (Tam Dean Burn) beside himself with his unanswerable riddle, and the March Hare’s toothiness, the Duchess (Alan Francis) a Pantomime Dame, and Duchess’s Cook performed with wicked glee by Gabriel Quigley. Watch out for the flying plates. The caterpillar (Zoë Hunter) whose infuriatingly changeable opinions are delivered with superb timing. The Gryphon, or Gryff, a Welshman of course, played by David Carlyle, shouts out Tourette’s style. Isobel McArthur’s sobbing Mock Turtle is glorious and Alice, the debut stage performance for Jess Peet, is self-assured, well able to stand up to the nonsense around her. Great ensemble acting gets hysterical, higher and higher as the performance goes on. A terrific show.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Edinburgh Lyceum, until 31 Dec