>ALICE IN WONDERLAND by The Stage Club

>reviewed by seow yien lein

>date: 10 dec 2000
>time: 6:30pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>rating: **1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

                           
>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.
 

>>>>>A CHRISTMAS CARROLL

One of the greatest casualties of the postmodern age is surely our capacity for wonder. All the more worthy, then, The Stage Club's aim of re-instilling this into children and adults alike this Christmastime through their musical, ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Taken largely from the famous work of the eminent Victorian, Lewis Carroll, The Stage Club's adaptation of the original was a burst of colour, children, tricked-up adults, and undisguised glee.

The story of what happened to a little girl called Alice one sleepy afternoon is familiar to most: while drowsing next to her older sister on the banks of the river, Alice's attention is suddenly caught by the sight of a fretful white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and, upon deciding to follow him down his tunnel, she is plunged into a series of bizarre adventures involving birds and beasts endowed with speech, as well as human-ish characters with unpredictable tempers. Getting on with her new acquaintances is not the worst of it - Alice is dogged throughout with a constant inability to be the right shape or size, and with not knowing what is going to happen next or indeed, where she is going to.

>>'The production did an admirable job of translating many of the individual events which make up Alice's underground adventures on to the stage'

The Stage Club's ALICE IN WONDERLAND did an admirable job of translating many of the individual events which make up Alice's underground adventures on to the stage. Better still, it conveyed the sense of dreaminess and bitter-sweet loss that tinges Carroll's own writing through the opening and closing scenes which showed Carroll, in a debonair boater and white pin-striped suit, out on a rowing trip down the river with his three young ladies - Prima, Tertia, and Secunda, or Alice herself. Although a good deal of episodes from the book had to be left out (due undoubtedly to technical reasons), most of the conversation between characters remained intact - even if you might have been hard-put to guess the species of some of the interlocutors without prior knowledge of Carroll's 'Alice'.

Still, this did not greatly hamper the audience's enjoyment of the show (some of which, in any case, would not have had read the book.) This was mostly because of the good acting all round - Bev McAlpine and Barry Woolhead shone especially brightly as the Duchess and the Queen of Hearts respectively - the lushness of the costumes, and the pervading sense of holiday and Christmas that the show conjured. The latter was largely helped by the great number of children, both on and off stage, who were evidently out to have a good time. Tim Bridgewater, the show's musical director, also showed excellent taste in his choice of background music - the jaunty number at the start of the show begged to be clapped to, and those for silent scenes, such as the opening and closing, were suitably atmospheric. The motley assembly of songs ranging from the more risqué of Gilbert and Sullivan oeuvre to Chicago's 'Razzle Dazzle', though not quite in keeping with the spirit of the book and though entailing invented conversations between characters, did not, on the whole, come off badly. In fact, with their sly lines deprecating men and the (British) monarchy, these seem to have been the highlight of the play for many older members of the audience, judging from the number of laughs they received.

Taken as a whole, however, there was something less than satisfying about the entire two-hour production. Perhaps this is because Carroll's knowing voice, which is really the thing that binds the narrative in his Alice books, has been sacrificed to specific theatrical considerations, or even to the music. As a result the scenes are too discrete and insufficiently linked by either conversation or even by singing. This has the effect of making the show rather sketchy, which is a pity considering the lengths to which the set, properties, and costume departments have gone to to lend authenticity of time and place to the production. Furthermore, as much of the feeling of the absurd, of the funny, of the magical, and of the nonsensical comes from Carroll's voice, leaving him out inevitably means losing the meaning of a significant number of lines (as when the Caterpillar does not read Alice's mind in explaining his words about eating to grow taller or shorter) as well as the laughs which ought to have come with lines such as these from the Gryphon: "That's the reason they're called lessons, because they lessen from day to day."

In the main, though, ALICE IN WONDERLAND probably proved that you can be all things to all men, and this on both sides of the curtain at that - beams all round for the cast as they bowed with a flourish, the audience young and old laughed, smiled, clapped, and walked out of the theatre satisfied with the evening's entertainment. The magic of such works as 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' is damnably difficult, if not impossible, to replicate on stage or even in film; The Stage Club's year-end production of this classic cannot be said to have been an exception to the general rule. Little wonder, but perhaps it does not greatly matter.