'Mad Hatter's Tea Party' brings the joy of cabaret to Canberra's younger audiences

'Mad Hatter's Tea Party' brings the joy of cabaret to Canberra's younger audiences

Mad Hatter's Tea Party, July 12-15, The Playhouse. Further information and tickets from canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 62752700.

With more burlesque performances being staged than ever before and the likes of Paris's cabaret sensation Crazy Horse debuting here in October, there's no doubt our capital has fallen in love again with the vintage variety show.

Eloise Green as the Mad Hatter. Photo Daniel Boud

Eloise Green as the Mad Hatter. Photo Daniel BoudCredit:Daniel Boud

But what if you wanted to introduce your five-year-old to the joys of vintage cabaret, burlesque and vaudeville?

Say hello to Mad Hatter's Tea Party, an immersive circus-meets-cabaret experience commissioned by Sydney Opera House to bring the joy of the variety show to tiny theatre-goers.

Marianna Joslin as the cheshire cat.

Marianna Joslin as the cheshire cat.Credit:Daniel Boud

Step onto the stage of The Playhouse this July and you've arrived in Alice's Wonderland (sans Alice) - a chaotic and colourful landscape dotted with the crazy characters of the beloved Lewis Carroll novel.

There's no sitting still in chairs and watching at this tea party: ticket holders are literally able to walk around and explore the set, and stand face-to-face with cast members.

And if you thought you couldn't make the mad hatter's tea party any crazier than the many movie versions, think again. Mad Hatter's Tea Party director Mike Finch has created a giant sugar cube fight and completely turned the gender of Carroll's characters upside down in his interpretation of the party scene.

"I was really conscious that Alice in Wonderland has almost been done to death, so I definitely wanted to find a fresh way of doing it," Finch said.

The show - designed for children - also drew huge groups of adults when it played at the Opera House. Photo Daniel Boud

The show - designed for children - also drew huge groups of adults when it played at the Opera House. Photo Daniel BoudCredit:Daniel Boud

"We've cross-cast the whole show - so there's a male Red Queen, a female Mad Hatter. We have put characters in that are literally the most minor characters in the book, like the flamingo is a big part of the current show.

"We decided we wouldn't put Alice in the show at all, so it's a bit like all the kids that come, all the people that come, are Alice."

Wonderland couldn't have been a more perfect choice for introducing children to cabaret, according to Finch.

"What's fantastic about some of the stuff from the Victorian era is it's so surreal and it's way ahead of it's time," he said.

"Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) came up with this incredible world that actually is such a great parallel with the way that we think about contemporary circus.

"It's narrative but it's non-narrative ... it's actually a series, as life is, of surreal events.

"And Lewis Carroll wrote the book as a gift to Alice, so it's a gift from the adult imagination feeding back in to kids.

"I have an 11-year-old daughter and I took this gig partly because I wanted to make a show that she would love. And she loves it."

In casting Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Finch needed only to make a few phone calls to secure some of the nation's most talented circus and cabaret performers. His many years at the helm of Circus Oz meant he had singing, aerial, contortion and comedic talent on speed-dial.

"The show is a real mix of cabaret and circus, but it's mainly circus," he said.

"It's a cast of seven, which includes a stage manager who is actually the White Rabbit. So we have our actual stage manager Anna, with the white ears on and all, running around with a giant clock going, 'you're late, you're late!'

"The Red Queen is an amazing circus performer, Stuart Christie, who worked with me at Circus Oz for quite a few years.

"The Flamingo is an amazing musical theatre performer from Sydney called Alicia Rose who is an incredible singer and dancer.

"The caterpillar is a hand dancer who worked for the last 15 years in circus. He does this incredible routine, where basically the caterpillar transforms in to a butterfly."

Mad Hatter's Tea Party opened at the Opera House earlier this year to rave reviews, delighting adults as much as ir did children. Finch is looking forward to bringing the to Canberra in two weeks' time.

"I have a real soft spot for Canberra. I've lived there at various times and I've got really close friends who live there," he said.

"There's just such a great audience in Canberra for multi-layered thinking ... it's a town of educated and incredibly creative people.

"There is a really great sense of play in Canberra."

Bree Element is the life and entertainment editor at The Canberra Times

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