The Unbirthday Party

Thu 13th – Mon 31st August 2015

reviews

Michael Roderick

at 09:59 on 19th Aug 2015

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Lewis Carroll’s masterpieces ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’ and ‘Through The Looking Glass’ have enjoyed a remarkable afterlife. Disney-fied, transformed by Tim Burton and countless other filmmakers, they have achieved that standard which always defines a great work of literature: they have entered the language. Like Hamlet and Oberon, or Little Dorrit and Scrooge, the March Hare and the Mad Hatter are known and loved by all and sundry.

Paperfinch Theatre’s The Unhappy Birthday builds on that legacy, specifically in celebration of 150 years of Alice and her varied adventures – for here we find all the classic characters gathered for a tea party, riffing off of Carroll’s nonsensical doggerel, entertaining their audience, (very) young and old, with raucous caucuses, flamingo croquet and juicy tea pots.

It is a show designed primarily for children, but it’s still joyous to watch, not least because of the awesome gladness of all the children invited to sit on stage at mushroom tables laden with cakes, jam and juice. Various characters flit in and out – the Cheshire Cat (Martha Roberts), the Caterpillar (Ben Price), the Doormouse (Pippa Atkinson) and Alice herself (Ciara Farren)– playing games, setting riddles and generally acting like they do in the books (there are various points where the book is used verbatim). The group then realise that they forgot to invite the spoilt Queen of Hearts (Polly Sculpher), who turns up unannounced and causes the usual havoc. Eventually, with the help of Alice, and with a little regicide, they rid themselves of the Queen’s tyranny and all live happily ever after, etc.

The group managed to keep the kids entertained and regularly interacted with them. They managed and exploited situation where the kids got a little too involved and chatty very well. The Mad Hatter (Jack Solloway) was especially good at this. The humour was understandably childish and child-directed and the entertainment for parents comes from the joy of watching their kids so happy. The Caterpillar, though, was extremely funny and droll and made me laugh on several occasions.

My one criticism of the piece is the script itself. Carroll’s books are so remarkable for their wordplay and riddling and they manage to raise some interesting questions about the nature of language, whilst being profoundly entertaining. Apart from when they were speaking dialogue extracted from the book (which was often), the verbal inventiveness of the original was lost and Carroll’s genius only hinted at. Despite this one bugbear, the cast display an admirable energy that will entertain parents and children.

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Catherine Crook

at 11:09 on 19th Aug 2015

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Paperfinch Theatre are a troupe well-versed in the world of Lewis Carroll, and their expertise definitely shows in the immersive world they have created in The Unbirthday Party.

Re-imagining Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in a celebration of its 150th year of publication, the children in the audience are invited to Alice’s Unbirthday celebration, a surprise party held on any day that isn’t your birthday (a practice I think we should adopt in Unwonderland, personally). Set in an intimate, interactive setting with colourful carpets, Great British Bake Off-style bunting and toadstool tables sporting real tea and cake, The Unbirthday Party provided an interactive space for children, serving as playground as well as stage.

The attention paid to props, costume and music created a sensory world that made the show that particularly exciting for the children in the audience. Little things such as croquet mallets painted like flamingos, and ‘eat me’ cakes for helped in contributing to the magical atmosphere. Abi McKee’s costumes helped embody the Wonderland characters and were stunning to look at; the fringed suit the Caterpillar wore in different shades of green one of my favourites. The music, composed by Teah Lewis and performed by a live band of Wonderland creatures, added to the sense of joy, with Immie Davies’ overall directorial vision really bringing a Wonderland to life.

Performance-wise, Jack Solloway as the Mad Hatter was a stand-out – the sort of companion every child should have on their adventures in Wonderland; with his talking into shoes, seeing riddles in teacups, and using Dormouse’s tail as a microphone, he was the source of much amusement. Ben Price was also strong as Caterpillar, providing many witty asides, such as how he was late to the celebrations because of his new-found Netflix addiction. These aspects combining the magical with the mundane made the adults in the room laugh too, the show providing entertainment for children and parents alike.

The immersive approach taken by Paperfinch in creating their Wonderland really set this production apart from other shows of its kind, and as a result, the children were responsive, dancing and singing along with the cast in what looked to be excellent fun. As Alice led everybody out of the rabbit hole (out of the exit doors) and out of Wonderland, it seemed that they were all very reluctant to leave. Overall, The Unbirthday Party was a play that fulfilled its purpose beautifully – to bring Lewis Carroll’s work to life by igniting the imagination and filling its audience with a spirit of adventure.

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