Alice In Wonderland

Date 13th April 2018
Society Ivybridge Theatre Company
Venue The Watermark, Ivybridge
Type of Production Play
Director Suzanne Danbury

Report

Author: Gareth Davies

This was my first visit to see Ivybridge Theatre Company. With this production of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, they certainly pushed at the boundaries of live theatre. ‘Alice’ is not easy to stage. I have seen a number of versions over the years and it is always a challenge. The storyline does not pursue a natural narrative but, instead, with Alice’s descent down the rabbit hole into Wonderland we follow her through a series of bizarre episodes until she wakes to normality, in this version retelling her crazy story to struggling writer, Lewis Carroll himself.

The curtain opened to reveal Carroll, played by the characterful Mark Reynolds, in his study grappling with writers’ block. The excellent Jemma Quinn, as Alice, appears and tells him of a peculiar dream she had – at least she thinks it was a dream. From the beginning, this was a captivating performance from Jemma Quinn. She hardly left the stage and was impressive throughout – her dialogue, vocals, physicality and characterisation were superb. She was perfectly cast in this role.

Woken by the White Rabbit, a lovely performance from Alan Wright, Alice’s descent down the rabbit hole and into the Pool of Tears was staged simply but effectively.

Now in Wonderland, the ensemble cast, aided by superb costuming by Hayley Ameer-Ali and Teresa Davis, imaginative face-paint and make-up, introduced us to a wonderful array of characters. There were some memorable performances; Carole Arnold brought a terrifying Queen of Hearts to life. Ann Laity’s deranged Duchess faultlessly delivering her lines of nonsense; Claire Strain and Trudy Fuller performing as the silly double act, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Then Mock Turtle, Chloe Crouch, entertained us with her careful characterisation and comic dancing; Knave Ron Davis was gently amusing in the Trial scene.

Lauren Tenn has excellent diction and was very good as both the Mouse and a Youth. The Cheshire Cat puppeteer, Robin Lee, did a brilliant job; I loved the Cheshire Cat, which was so simple yet effective. Very funny.

Of course, a key scene is the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and this opened Act Two. A typically eccentric performance here from Justin Avery as the Mad Hatter: he has a mellifluous voice, which I enjoyed listening to and his delivery was just right for the character. It was a shame one or two lines were dropped in this scene, but that happens to the best of them! Keri Bartolini’s March Hare and Trudy Fuller’s sleepy Dormouse were lovely foils in this famous scene.

Generally, the focus and concentration were good throughout and all played their roles with conviction. It would be remiss of me not to mention Tom Ingham’s lugubrious Caterpillar – this was a well-drawn portrayal with a fantastic costume and makeup. Overall, I thought most of the cast did extremely well but occasionally I could not hear some of the dialogue.

The set and lighting were simple but mainly effective. On opening night, there were some glitches, but I am sure these were ironed out by the next performance. It amazed me how well the cast managed with such a limited space.

I would prefer for scene transitions to be faster and slicker. The pace was too slow sometimes. Personally, I also prefer not to see stage crew or, even better, for the actors to change scenery if it must be visible. Blackouts are not advisable either – try to think of more imaginative ways of changing the scene whilst maintaining the audience’s attention. Props are always a dilemma, especially in a fantastical world such as Wonderland. It is sometimes better to do away with props and create the illusion in other ways. For example, the changing doors did not convince me – it was comical and the audience laughed, but I am not sure that was the intention.

Writing a new play is a challenge, especially one that is based on such a well-known story. Stylistically I felt the writing did not quite settle and there was a lot of humour (innuendo) which was missed because the audience were not expecting it or because the performers did not play it ‘out front’ enough.

This was generally a good production. Congratulations to director/writer Suzanne Danbury and the company for an enchanting evening in Wonderland - I will look forward to returning to Ivybridge for ‘The Unexpected Guest’ in September.