Alice in Wonderland

Jun 7 2019 | By More

★★★☆☆     Curiouser and curiouser

Traverse Theatre: Thu 6 – Sat 8 Jun 2019
Review by Hugh Simpson

While it is difficult to go too far wrong with Alice In Wonderland, it can definitely be done. Blue Raincoat Theatre’s version uses enough of the book to satisfy, but its own slant on the story does not quite convince.

Sligo’s finest – probably most famous for their versions of Flann O’Brien – are reviving their version of Lewis Carroll’s evergreen story of the girl who goes down a rabbit hole and finds a topsy-turvy world there. Originally seen in 2006, this version – by Jocelyn Clarke – sticks closely to the words of Carroll’s original, but shifts the focus slightly.

Hilary Bowen-Walsh and Brian Devaney. Pic: Peter Martin

This is undoubtedly a more ‘grown-up’ adaptation, darker both literally (thanks to Barry McKinney’s moodily evocative lighting) and figuratively. The role of Alice is split between Hilary Bowen-Walsh (as an ‘older’ Alice) and Miriam Needham (a ‘younger’ version), and the rest of the cast (John Carty, Brian Devaney, Sean Elliot and Sandra O Malley) play every other part as necessary.

While the doubling as the White Rabbit, Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts and so on works very well, the same cannot be said of the two Alices. Both performers are very good, but there seems to be no need for both of them, and confusion results on several occasions.

The use of the ‘older’ Alice does reinforce the more troubling themes about memory, ageing and loss of innocence. But these are always present in the original for those who want to find them, and hardly need to be laid on with a trowel as they are here.

po-faced absurdity

What is most disappointing – and least excusable – is to have an Alice so lacking in joy. There is no shortage of po-faced absurdity, but hardly any genuine laughter. When it does come, it is as likely to be from designer Paul McDonnell’s wonderfully elegant use of props from as anything else.

Sandra O’Malley as the Duchess and Miriam Needham (seated) with John Carty, Sean Elliott, Brian Devaney and Hilary Bowen-Walsh. Pic: Peter Martin

There are isolated moments that work brilliantly – O Malley’s Duchess, or a half-beautiful, half-ludicrous serenade from the Mock Turtle (Bowen-Walsh, who keeps slipping back into her Alice persona in one of the moments where this conceit works).

Niall Henry’s direction is definitely on the stately side at times; there is some tremendously choreographed movement and the ensemble are superbly drilled, but it lacks sparkle.

While this is intended as a more ‘adult’ treatment, there is no age recommendation on the Traverse website and accordingly there were several (very) young audience members on the first night. There is nothing that will scare them unduly – but children may be forgiven for wondering how their book has become relatively slow, ponderous and unfunny.

Running time 1 hour 10 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Thursday 6 – Saturday 8 June 2019
Daily at 7.30 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.


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