Alice in Wonderland. Adapted by Jason Pizarello from the book by Lewis Carroll. Directed by Jordan Best. Original music by Peter Best. Ickle Pickle Productions. Belconnen Theatre. Until January 20. canberraticketing.com.au or 6275 2700.
Ickle Pickle Productions has come up with an intelligent, absorbing and lively look at Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. Under Jordan Best's assured direction a large and mostly youthful cast recreates Carroll's world with style and understanding on the small Belconnen Theatre stage.
And what an eccentric, topsy-turvy world it is. Through the Looking Glass is raided for a few bits and there are a few omissions from the original Wonderland but Carroll's universe is all of a piece and this version will serve as a good introduction.
It's an economical show too, with a cleverly basic black and white set (Steven Galinec, from an original design concept by Wayne Shepherd) that may echo the original Tenniel illustrations. The rabbit hole has seldom been so simply done.
Peter Best's excellent music is wisely kept within bounds so that this show never looks like becoming a full musical. Instead it's a play with music and Carroll's world is allowed its deeply imaginative voice.
At the centre is Sarah's O'Neill's confident Alice, searching for a sense of her identity but never being put upon in the process. She's brisk and sensible and captures the personality of Carroll's young heroine well.
Jade Breen is an equally brisk White Rabbit pursued by a parallel Alice (Emily O'Brien), a useful concept that enables Alice at times to see herself. Nicole Carr is strong as the ever-smiling, always evasive Cheshire Cat, Lucy O'Sullivan's Humpty Dumpty is the epitome of pride before a fall and Caitlin Simkin's Caterpillar is wonderfully supercilious.
Tweedledee (Brenton Cleaves) and Tweedledum (Kay Liddiard) do an excellent twin act. Shaylie Maskell is suitably dotty as the beleaguered Duchess whose baby is perhaps a pig. The Walrus (Joss Kent) and the Carpenter (Callum Doherty) skilfully and slowly reveal a sinister affection for the oysters that they have befriended.
The Queen (Alex McPherson) and King (Janie Lawson) of Hearts are a splendidly glamorous and unsettling pair, with the Queen taking the prize for arbitrary application of power, something Alice is quick to recognise. However, this gives an opportunity for a neat and stroppy turn from Aron Tweddle as the much put-upon Executioner.
But for sheer insanity it's probably the Mad Hatter's tea party that takes the tea, the cakes and all. A cunning scenic device has the tea table extending from wing to wing. Jim Adamik is a rollicking Mad Hatter, aided and abetted by Oliver Johnston as a lanky eared March Hare. But table, Hatter and Hare come close to being upstaged by William Best's charmingly dozy (and dozing) Dormouse.
Great to see an Alice that has a clear affection for the surrealism of the original. That should hopefully send full audiences of all ages off in search of the books. Recommended.