Not quite a wonderful life in this Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland
Alice in Wonderland

Whatever Lewis Carroll was on when he made up Alice in Wonderland it must have seemed like Christmas every day.

So the Octagon returns the ‘favour’ with this particularly trippy tribute as a seasonal substitute to more traditional pantomimes.

It’s a bold move, especially since Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s adaptation extends it into a metaphor for identity and tolerance of the individual.

So when we first encounter Alice (Sarah Vezmar) it is as a Year 6 pupil, an under-achiever constantly overlooked in class, and desperate to achieve the honour of caring for a school rabbit over the holidays.

Cue her pursuit of its white relative into Wonderland, along with her teacher and rest of her classmates, who in turn become all the characters she meets along the wacky way.

At which point it’s absolutely essential that audiences, of all ages, know their way around Carroll’s wild imaginings. Otherwise, in the absence of a linear narrative, younger theatregoers may just regard it all as a lot of grown-ups having a good time as youngsters larking about. The kind of stuff that more often than not gets them into trouble!

The loudest laughs here tend to come from audience members who outgrew Alice many years back. Using some of the Beatles psychedelic back catalogue as background tracks could be regarded as further target marketing.

Director Elizabeth Newman, and a versatile cast of seven, keep it powered up with abundant physical energy that uses the Octagon space to full effect and there is a lot of wit and imagination on hand, especially in Barbara Hockaday’s music.

The Tweedles, Dum and Dee (Russell Morton and Jack Quarton) become a pair of wonderfully bloated beat boxers, but the chance to distinguish other such characters cannot reach quite the same height of comic absurdity.

As a surreal and silly antidote to traditional pantomime it has its merits, but only for those who have already been to Wonderland.

David Upton