The original Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is mad – featuring a grinning Cheshire Cat, a White Rabbit running late, a philosophical caterpillar and a queen with a penchant for beheading people.
It is also maddening – a spoilt girl wearing a frilly apron and headband falling down a hole and then wandering aimlessly around bumping into the furniture and taking tea with the Mad Hatter.
If Carroll’s tale is the epitome of absurd fantasy – then playwright Nick Lane’s twist on the children’s favourite is absolute crackers – like a convention of Mad Hatters.
In his topsy-turvy take on Alice in Wonderland our heroine is now a grown-up, single mum of two – scouring Boyes on Christmas Eve, children in tow, and moaning that her sister is on her way to spend the festive season with them.
She is hit by a stock cage and sent spiralling down into Wonderland – the place she visited as a child though no-one believes her.
This time she is desperate to get back to her children – but has to get her smile back from the evil Duchess and bring happiness back to Wonderland before she can leave.
That – in a teapot – is the plot. All the characters – Caterpillar, Queen of Hearts, the Duchess, Tweddledee and Tweedledum, Hatter, Cheshire Cat, March Hare, Mock Turtle, JubJub Bird, Dodo and sleepy Dormouse – are here but not necessarily as you know them.
Purists may sob, those of us who are not or do not know any better cheered ... and clapped and hissed and booed and sang nonsense songs. It is more panto-esque than pantomime outright.
The music is original – Parisienne street sounds, music hall and a touch of Broadway – from Simon Slater. It is ace.
Alice is the principal girl played with amples of put-upon-petulance and then dollops of delightful devil-may-care by Ebony Jonelle.
Her nemesis is the Duchess, who in Lane’s version, is pure evil in true panto style.
Either Lane is clairvoyant or wickedly clever because there is a soupcon of the Duchess of Sussex in her look and her feud with the deposed Queen (step forward the Duchess of Cambridge).
Loren O’Diar in a sleight of costume plays both roles as well as the March Hare – a deaf idiot – one of the running gags from last year Lane’s A (Scarborough) Christmas Carol.
Elliott Rennie, Josie Dunn and Robert Jackson play all the other Carroll characters plus Lane’s inventions including a northern club comic/TV presenter and a French fashion designer.
To give a way the special effects, the details of characterisation, the quirks and quirkiness of the production would be to ruin what a delightful journey awaits.
The actors play instruments, sing, act and engage with the audience on the turn of a sixpence, the jokes are some times subtle and other times smack-in-the-face, deliberately dreadful.
Paul Robinson directs with a firm hand on the mayhem – Lane may lose the plot but Robinson doesn’t. The effect is like a Jackson Pollock painting – bold, bright spots and stripes of colour splatterd willy-nilly on a canvas which somehow make sense.
The costumes are as absurd, outrageous and colourful as the plot.
There is puppetry, West End song and dance, dizzying plot twists and dazzling character changes and audience participation.
Alice is full of warmth, kindness and Christmas cheer – perfect fare for the season.
Times: Friday December 14 at 7pm; Saturday December 15 at 2pm and 5.30pm
Monday December 17 at 10am; Tuesday December18 at 10am; Wednesday December 19 at 10am
Thursday December 201 at 10am; Thursday December 21 at 1pm; Saturday December 22 at 2pm; Sunday December 23 at 2pm
Monday December 24 at 2pm; Thursday December 27 at 2pm at 5.30pm
Friday December 28 at 2pm at 7pm; Saturday December 29 at 2 and Sunday December30 at 2pm
Tickets: 01723 370541 or via the website: www.sjt.uk.com