Alice in Wonderland

Date 16th December 2016
Society Woodfield Entertainers
Venue Ashtead Peace Memorial Hall
Type of Production Panto
Director Cara Turner
Musical Director Elaine Denny
Choreographer Members of the company


Author: Jon Fox

This was an interesting take on the famous Lewis Carroll story, using a Lazy Bee script by Andrew O'Leary. All the well known characters appeared, plus two - Jack, very well played by Mel Schmidt - and the Dame (Cookie) played with much warmth and skill by Tim Waters - who were added to the story.    Unfortunately, as the character did not exist in the original story, the Dame, who should be the pivotal role in any Panto, was of necessity vastly underused. I quite understand why, but nevertheless, this was a pity and showed the difficulties which can arise by adding extra characters into a well known story, even though the writer is the one to whom I should really address this comment.

Amalee Gamache was very well cast as Alice, curious, naive but sweet and yet undaunted. A good performance! She played the title role with nuanced skill throughout the show.

T.W.E. had sensibly used three separate free standing platforms on the hall floor in addition to the smallish stage and much good use was made of these, giving a more spacious feel to the story.

Elaine Denny really took the eye as the "off with his head" Queen of Hearts, with presence aplenty. A battleaxe character to fear (and for a reviewer to relish)!   Graham Thorburn nicely contrasted with his King as an "under the thumb" hapless monarch. Elaine and Graham worked well together.

I loved the White Rabbit played with consummate skill and wonderful movement by the talented Daniel Shepherd. He enhanced his every scene.

Neil Edwards, despite wearing a rather below par, joke shop style, top hat thoroughly convinced as the Mad Hatter and captured his unworldly character.   Hannah Chapman's March Hare worked well especially in tandem with Neil at their tea party scenes, which were beautifully done. Young Millie Barnes was a good and scurrying Dormouse.

Thomas Thorburn was a highly effective Cheshire Cat, aged only fourteen and showing distinct promise.

A superbly laid back Caterpillar (sitting on a giant toadstool) with a totally authentic Caribbean accent was made into a stunning hit of a role by the clearly talented Kenny Menet-Hawkins.

The important duo of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee worked really effectively together. Simon Gadd as T. Dee had presence to spare and Claire Webb, who stood in at only three weeks' notice also played her full part as T. Dum.   Resplendent in yellow and red with braces and purple bow ties they performed their famous song "Anything you can do, I can do better" with energy though perhaps neither would claim beauty of singing tone. They also handled the songsheet of "Jingle Bells" alongside seven small children with the required enthusiasm and panache.

Tracey Gillard excelled as the awful, cruel Mrs Hackett the orphanage owner.   A real Cruella De Ville type, she was too, played to ghastly perfection. Lissea Jordan and Judy Abbott were orphans Sherry and Stella respectively and both did well.

Marie Thorburn was the Playing Card, receiving some rough treatment while retaining a sense of fun throughout.   This was her first Woodies appearance, the first of many, I believe.   Several Wonderland creatures and monsters were also played by cast members, some doubling up their roles.

The opening company number "Wonderland" was sung and danced with energy and made a good start to the show. Going back 24 hours the White Rabbit (aka by the Queen as "Sunny Bunny") entered with a panto sized spanner and tool box along with  Jack (Clyde) where Sunny was ordered by the Queen to go up to the surface and steal Alice's magic watch.  

Alice, being punished for her lateness by Mrs Hackett was forced to sleep alone in the forest where she sang "The Climb" before falling asleep. Here, I must say that a programme list of all the show songs would have been helpful, at least to the reviewer, as I am not well versed in current popular music and had to guess the song titles in some cases!

Effective use of the rabbit hole, stage right, was used for Sunny Bunny, Jack and the Dame (Cookie), who put over "Let Me Entertain You" with a certain style. I also liked the "Kite, for Wind".

Good use was made of various entrances, through the hall and onto the three platforms. The "Come With Me" etc (from Willy Wonka) by the company, but mainly sung by the Mad Hatter, was well chosen and good use made here of young Thomas as the Cheshire Cat.

The three large toadstools looked impressive, as also did the statue behind which the Dame tried valiantly to conceal herself.

In the tea party scene, the "half a cup of china" tea handed to Alice, which the March Hare found so hilarious, did provoke a smile at least. As to what is the difference between rabbits and hares, I am still not sure, but their discussion was worth listening to for sure.

The Mad Hatter, March Hare, Dormouse and Alice sang a song I certainly knew "Stuck in the Middle with You" while exiting the Hall. I was sorry to see them leave as they had entertained so well.

Cue a terrifying Queen of Hearts with two large pots set upstage containing white flowers. Refusing Alice's plea for her watch to be returned, the act ended somewhat abruptly with some "off with their heads" business from the Queen.

Act two opened with just some hectic jiving accompanied by the singing of Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat plus Tweedles Dum and Dee who entered through the Hall. This regular use of entrances through the Hall helped draw the audience more into the action as Director Cara Turner clearly intended.

The tea party where the parcel was made much of to make perfect tarts and the paternal instincts of the Mad Hatter towards a teacup were most amusing.

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee aided by a helpful audience guarded the tarts. The "stop thief" business was well carried out and the scene ended with the Dame receiving a cream tart in her face. Ah bliss, even if not for poor Cookie at that moment!

The Dormouse revealed that Alice was languishing in the Queen's dungeon as all the company trooped off to the Palace. Realistic stone painted flats for the dungeon where Alice sat disconsolate until visited by the King, Jack and White Rabbit. However, due to an excess of bass in the sound, I missed much of the words in "Sorry."

The King entered to warn about the terrible Black Gates behind which the Queen was going to unleash unspeakable horrors and demons. There followed the best song so far in "Hold on to what you're Feeling" by Jack and Alice with a pleasant upbeat tempo.

The dreadful Queen now held her Tarty Party in order to fatten up the company for the horrors awaiting them. Comic mayhem followed when the Dame, vainly trying to hide behind a statue, cowered while spear wielding guards chased the Mad Hatter around the hall until the Dame's rubber hammer finished them off.

When the Queen finally unleashed the horrors behind the Black Gates, she and her Ghouls were defeated by the company, who in turn banished the Queen to be trapped behind the gates.

So the baddie got her comeuppance in true Panto tradition. It just remained for the King to pass his crown on to Jack, who now became King.

And so, afore the aforementioned song sheet, we had the walkdown and vibrant finale "Shut up and Dance with Me".   Elaine Denny, the musical director was unfortunately listed half way down the list of acknowledgements, which were listed in alphabetical - not a good idea in my opinion. The lone keyboard player, who also edited the music, was Bruce Arnold and both Elaine and Bruce are worthy of praise for their efforts.   

In a company not blessed with strong singing voices, the sound was nevertheless less of good quality in general.  

Lighting, well used, was in the capable hands of Dominic Lawrence.

Costumes by Cara Turner and Mel Schmidt, in a show with such characters as in Alice in Wonderland, are specially important (the Mad hatter's top hat was my only gripe) and were of excellent quality.

Choreography was a sterling team effort by Mel, Amalee, Cara, Kenny and Hannah. And all save Cara ,whose direction of this highly enjoyable panto did the company proud, were also onstage.

T.W.E. are a tightly knit company with a helpful and most attentive front of house and efficient backstage team who all played their full parts in making this panto the hit the company definitely provided.