Ickle Pickle's Alice in Wonderland at Belconnen Theatre
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Ickle Pickle's Alice in Wonderland at Belconnen Theatre

Alice in Wonderland. Adapted by Jason Pizarello from the book by Lewis Carroll. Directed by Jordan Best. Music by Peter Best. Ickle Pickle Productions. Belconnen Theatre. January 12 and 16 at 7pm; 13, 14, 17, and 20 at 2pm; 18 at 11am and 2pm; and 19 at 11 and 7pm. Tickets $24. canberraticketing.com.au or 62752700.

Justin Watson's theatre company. Ickle Pickle Productions, is presenting Jason Pizarello's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland as its January family play. But director Jordan Best - co-founder of Pigeonhole Productions, whose award-winning presentations of Playhouse Creatures and Summer of the Seventeenth Doll have received much acclaim - has brought many of her own touches to this version of the classic Lewis Carroll story. The play combines elements of both Alice books, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass.

William Best, left, as The Dormouse, Jim Adamik as The Mad Hatter, and Oliver Johnstone as The March Hare in Ickle Pickle's Alice in Wonderland.

William Best, left, as The Dormouse, Jim Adamik as The Mad Hatter, and Oliver Johnstone as The March Hare in Ickle Pickle's Alice in Wonderland.

Watson says the company has built up momentum and a following in recent years doing its January family shows - last year's was a successful run of Peter Pan - and with Alice he engaged "a professional like Jordan to get full value out of it".

Best says, "The script is a jumping-off point - it's not super easy to do as a stage play,"

Nicole Carr as the Cheshire Cat, left, Jade Breen as the White Rabbit, Sarah O'Neill as Alice in Ickle Pickle's Alice in Wonderland.

Nicole Carr as the Cheshire Cat, left, Jade Breen as the White Rabbit, Sarah O'Neill as Alice in Ickle Pickle's Alice in Wonderland.

Photo: Supplied
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She and her colleagues have tried to create a throughline out of Alice's encounters with various strange characters such as the ever-late White Rabbit (Jade Breen), the smiling Cheshire Cat (Nicole Carr), the twins Tweedledum ( Kay Liddiard) and Tweedledee (Brenton McFarlane) and the irascible Queen of Hearts (Alex McPherson).

Best, who loved the Alice stories when growing up, has added some characters from the books who were not in the original script such as the Mock Turtle and the Walrus and the Carpenter. She's also enlisted her father, film composer Peter Best, whose credits include Crocodile Dundee and Muriel's Wedding, to write 10 songs for the show - some using Carroll's verse for the lyrics, others wholly original. They include a final number, I Wonder, featuring the whole cast of more than 30. They range in age from 10 to 83. though two-thirds are 18 and under.

In the latter category is the actress in the title role. Sarah O'Neill, 18, will be undertaking her first lead role as Alice. She played the Crocodile in their production of Peter Pan last year and was in previously in a few school shows at St Clare's College. She is finding the challenge of recapturing childhood a welcome one.

"Alice is the epitome of youth," she says of the character, who is described as being 10 years and nine months in the show.

O'Neill says she didn't want to resort to tricks like putting on a high voice or acting deliberately child-like.

"I'm trying to find the innocence within myself," she says.

She's also drawing on her own memories of what she was like at 10.

"I was very stubborn,very nuts, I think, a a crazy 10-year-old."

Sometimes, though, she has to be the relatively sensible one in her scenes, such as the tea party with the Mad Hatter (Jim Adamik), the March Hare (Oliver Johnstone) and the Dormouse (William Best).

Adamik is Jordan Best's husband and they are parents to 10-year-old William Best, who's in his first show, sharing the stage with his father.

"We're lucky to see it runs in the family a bit," Adamik says. . He was last directed by Best as the Porter in Canberra Repertory Society's Macbeth in 2016.

He says the three characters - the Hatter, the Hare and the Dormouse - form "a nice little gang" who squabble a lot but also stick up for each other when necessary.

Adamik says what he particularly likes about the production are Peter Best's songs - "he's particularly nailed it with new clever lyrics and clever music, they bring it to life."

There's a number for the Mad Hatter's Tea Party scene in which Adamik and the other actors in the scene join in together.

"We have a song, No Room, telling Alice to take a hike: there's no room at the table."

Adamik played the villainous Thenardier in last year's Free-Rain production of Les Miserables and the actors who played all the other Thenardiers are also, coincidentally, in this show, making it something of an unofficial family reunion.

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This is Adamik's first Ickle Pickle show and while there are "way more children than I'm used to" he's impressed by their enthusiasm and commitment to the production.

"There are some very talented young people in it."

Ron Cerabona

Ron Cerabona is an arts reporter for The Canberra Times.

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