Waiting for Alice

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2011

reviews

Bethany Knibb

at 07:39 on 7th Aug 2011

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Need your fix of nonsense for the day? This is the prequel, if you like, to Alice in Wonderland – a delightfully absurd new piece, during which the idiosyncrasies of Rabbit, Turtle, Hatter, Dormouse and Hare are introduced, developed and preserved in ink.

I knew to expect something impressive when the show began before I sat down – that demonstrates some hearty commitment. Greeted at the door by quivering Rabbit, impeccably-cast Nick Finegan, and handed a classic cup in order to be served a not-so-classic cup of tea, I was impressed. (Here, a word to the wise: you may or may not decide to sip your tea throughout this performance – which I did – but do try not to swill, for fear of an inky smile!)

The 45 minute production is a magical dream of Lewis Carroll’s bizarre consciousness, and the sensory set design and unpretentious violin, David Ridley, fill the gaps between scenes with the light-hearted atmosphere of an actual tea party (which it might as well be). Thanks to the intimacy of the venue the audience share the experience of being “inside” with the characters – a reference to being within the book or, perhaps, Carroll’s consciousness. With the sweet smell of cupcakes wafting over you, it’s a challenge to feel anything but connected to the characters’ existence.

The script is impressive and the acting, equally so. The speed and sparkle of the exchanges between characters is a definite highlight of the production, and attributed as much to the quality of the script as to the actors. Holly Race Roughan and Alex Woolf bring the story of Wonderland glitteringly up to date with – most memorably – a short moment of beat-boxing-style jam-making from Callum Brodie as Hare.

While the Jabberwocky Productions team have created a show that can be enjoyed by all, the greatest enjoyment of Waiting for Alice will definitely come to those who are more familiar with Carroll’s original. In this position myself, the development of the characters was more satisfyingly understandable and there are a number of doubtless otherwise confusing Alice jokes.

Overall, it was refreshing to see something that was not trying to make a strong subversive social or political comment, though its content is clever and very well put-together. This is a beautifully produced emotional portrait of the characters in Alice in Wonderland… before they were famous.

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Ramin Sabi

at 09:47 on 7th Aug 2011

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As one enters the already surreal space of Pleasance Courtyard (Beside), you are thrust a teacup and a biscuit, before you are poured a tea; but it is not yet tea, it is ink, blue and sugary. The tea will turn brown, but it is still being written – this is the driving concept behind this Beckett-inspired prequel of sorts to ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. We hear the voice of Lewis Carroll, very much the deus ex machina. Characters are terrified of being written out and claw to be the protagonist. For the protagonist has yet to be written. We come to the famed Tea Party as it starts: before the Hatter has his hat, where they find themselves waiting for Alice to arrive and the novel to be completed.

A play that makes an overt over-arching reference to ‘Waiting for Godot’ and attempts a metatextual contemplation of a much-loved story has the potential to be exceedingly over-intellectualised or pretentious. But this show is not. Holly Race Roughan and Alex Woolf have done an excellent job with the writing, making witty puns almost every other line that can compete with Carroll himself in their ingenuity, not to mention keep the packed audience bubbling with laughter. The concept is neither over- nor under-played – it is a well-explored analysis of the process of writing, the notion of character and fate as well as being a very entertaining piece of theatre.

That entertainment is enhanced by the high quality of the cast and direction. Nick Flanegan stood out in particular as the very believable White Rabbit, both lovable and intense, but the entire cast was in many ways flawless. The lines delivered with their rapid stichomythic nature – all cues were perfectly sharp – and the precise movement across and within the stage made a play that could easily have been a static expanse of dialogue an exciting and engaging play to watch. The set, littered with what seems like thousands of teacups, mugs, teapots and jam-pots, provides a sumptuous backdrop to this great set of performances.

Jabberwocky Theatre Productions extremely impressive piece for a university company doesn’t quite reach the ‘outstanding’ category partly because of the nature of the play – it isn’t something that is going to evoke a transcendental dramatic experience, but this is unlikely to be its intention. One could also criticise the lack of originality in the choice of text on which to base the play, but it would be harder to take a more original or high quality of Alice in Wonderland that this.

All in all, ‘Waiting for Alice’ is a witty, entertaining and intelligent play suitable for anyone who appreciates a good cup of blue tea.

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