Alice’s biggest asset is a cast whose enthusiastic and professional attitudes shine through in all they do
Shipley College’s Scruffy Penguin Theatre Company provides a riotously energetic rendition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland that has much to recommend as a theatrical experience, though less as a piece of storytelling.
Although billed as children’s theatre, little ones without a firm grasp on the story already may get lost as the script leaps right into the action. Much of the wordplay might sail over their heads as well. There is a habit of telling, not showing: opportunities are missed to use music either during transitions or to differentiate locations. Alice (Katie Webster) is frequently heard saying things like, “Here is a path,” “Here is a tree,” or “We have been running for 10 minutes,” with no other indication to the audience that those objects or events are there. It’s unclear what is occurring or what the stakes are, and whilst a certain amount of unpredictability is inherent and deliberate in Carroll’s original work, there is little here in which we can emotionally invest. None of the characters grow or change and no lessons are learned by the time a rather underwhelming ending dribbles onstage.
However, the energy and pace with which the script is delivered is fantastic. The young cast are clearly game for anything, shimmying up rickety ladders and throwing themselves into chaotic scene changes with great enthusiasm. It is refreshing to see performers visibly enjoying themselves, throwing out adlibs and covering for each other when mistakes are made, especially in a show so prone to dark and gritty interpretations.
Angus Meldrum as the Red Queen avoids the obvious trap of making the character as vicious as Tim Burton’s interpretation and bravely uses the humour and clowning to great comic effect. Anton Renouf as the Cheshire Cat puts his own stamp on the role, again resisting the temptation to embrace the sinister over the silly. Unfortunately, the script only occasionally allows Alice to be more than just a walking doll for mad things to happen to. But Webster takes advantage of the moments when Alice’s prim and patient frustration boils over into sadness or anger and could dig even deeper in those beats to produce a greater emotional impact.
The show is for the most part well-packaged: costumes and sets are exquisitely detailed and beautiful. However, the company needs to consider the importance of sight lines in a venue with stadium seating and move the action further upstage where it will not be obscured. Diction and volume also varies with some lines being swallowed or slurred.
Though its haphazard script prevents it from reaching true greatness, Alice’s biggest asset is a cast whose enthusiastic and professional attitudes shine through in all they do. Those on the fence about seeing it should fall down the rabbit hole.