REVIEW: ALICE IN WONDERLAND @ THEATRE ROYAL PLYMOUTH
🎭 Alice in Wonderland
📍 The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2TR
🗓 Wednesday 2nd August 2023
A SHOW WITH GREAT POTENTIAL
Last night I was back at Theatre Royal Plymouth or as I like to call it, my spiritual home! I was there for a brand new production of Alice in Wonderland. This funked-up version of the classic Lewis Carrol story has been co-produced by Theatre Royal Plymouth alongside Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and Stockroom Productions and can easily be described as Alice In Wonderland - but not as you know it!
It’s fair to say that I entered the theatre with a bit of trepidation and not knowing exactly what to expect. I wasn’t exactly disappointed with it, but neither was I wowed! There was a lot of things wrong with it, but also a lot of good. This production has great potential to grow into a hit show but it needs a lot of refinement and money spending on it. It’s presenting itself as a big musical when in its present form it’s more like a summer pantomime.
The story is set in the 1990’s and at the beginning we meet Alice, played by Paislie Reid, who’s mourning her father. She has a knack for mending things and is trying to fix her stereo so she can play a cassette tape and listen to her fathers voice again. The stereo is called Wonderland and she is transported inside by this story’s version of the White Rabbit called Eject (Myles Miller).
As she’s taken inside Wonderland the main set for the show is revealed. At first glance this does look quite impressive but it’s quickly apparent that it has been done rather cheaply. There’s so much that could be done to make this incredible but it’s all very basic. One of the biggest failings with the set was the way that extra bits and props were brought on by the crew when needed. This was all really clunky and badly orchestrated. Also the fact that they all had their lanyards and headsets on made them really look out of place. Other productions manage to do this a lot more smoothly and successfully so I struggle to see why it seemed so difficult in this production. I would maybe have switched it so that the actors brought the bits on which would have been a lot less distracting and would not have felt so disjointed.
In Wonderland we meet all the functions of the stereo including the two speakers, the Queen of Chartz played by Leanne Jones and the Queen of Clubz played by Natasha Lewis. They were both very entertaining and acted their parts well. I enjoyed how they both spoke in rhyme, even though rhyming ‘fun’ with ‘one’ was a questionable choice! They had both perfected their evil laughs which was a delight and Jones especially had a great singing voice. She delivered the song Good Vibes Only with great power. This song has the potential to be a huge future hit of musical theatre, but there’s that word again - potential.
The songs for the most part were really good and catchy but another failing of this production was with the sound. The levels were completely off throughout which made it difficult to actually hear the lyrics being sung. Also, as great as the songs were most of them had very disappointing endings which always left a pause before the somewhat lacklustre audience applause came.
Although most of the music was played live, there was obviously pre-recorded music too and this combined with the use of a drum machine rather than a proper drum kit made for quite a tinny sound to the music and absolutely no depth.
As Alice fights the evil Queens and endeavours to fix the stereo from within she meets some interesting characters. Steve Simmonds brought great energy to the characters of Rewind and Pause and created almost a comedy double-act with Daniel Carter-Hope as Play and Fast Forward. All the characters bore a passing resemblance to the original Lewis Carrol characters. Some were better than others and Dad Hatter was a stretch too far for me! I missed the eccentricities of the original character and although I understand how this character fitted into the plot of the story, I do feel that this was a missed opportunity for some great theatre.
For me the standout star of the show was without question Tomi Ogbaro who played three characters, each very different from one another enabling him to showcase his talent. My favourite of his characters was Bez - this productions version of the Cheshire Cat! The line in the song I’m Bez where he sang “I take a dump in a box” was childish yet very funny! He is such a dynamic performer and at times when the story felt a little flat he was able to bring the energy back up and get the audience back on side. He also excelled as Jabberwock and his rap battle with Alice as Stop was possibly the most high-octane part of the evening.
Unfortunately I think that the book here is quite weak overall and needs a bit of reworking. As I stated earlier, it’s very pantomime but it could be a great musical one day. Elements such as the silly game shows and getting the audience shouting “behind you” desperately need to be removed. Essentially it’s extremely juvenile and needs to grow up if it is to secure a future and compete as a serious show within the industry. There are currently some phenomenal musicals touring the UK at in its current form this show just doesn’t compare.
The soundtrack itself is good and songs such as Without You, Pause. Stop. Time, You Are Not Invited and Find Your Way are all really good and where the main strengths of the production lie. Worked correctly Alice in Wonderland could be a hit amongst people who are fans of shows such as Six and Heathers, but it needs money spending on it.
Regular readers of my reviews will know that I do like a technically good production and the lighting design here felt extremely uninspired and almost as if it was an afterthought. As act 1 ended there was an amazing opportunity to get creative with the lighting and have a myriad of colours and flashing lights, instead what I witnessed was one of the most boring pieces of technical theatre I have witnessed in a long time.
So overall a very mixed review! I feel with the right funding that this show could be something really amazing. The songs by Vikki Stone are great as are the cast, but everything else needs some serious work. It’s almost like watching a workshop rather than the finished production. If the show can step away from the pantomime element and stop chasing the audience interaction that never really came then this show could be a real success.
As always, I urge you to make up your own mind! Alice in Wonderland is playing at Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 5th August. Head to www.theatreroyal.com to check availability and book tickets.
All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest and free from influence.
My tickets for this performance of Alice in Wonderland were gifted by Theatre Royal Plymouth who invited me to watch the show in exchange for my honest review. The fact that my tickets were gifted played no part in the star rating or the content of my review.
Daniel Carter-Hope as Dad Hatter / Play / Fast Forward; Leanne Jones as Queen of Chartz; Natasha Lewis as Bibian / Queen of Clubz; Jerome Lincoln as Volume; Zweyla Mitchell Dos Santos as Lewis; Tomi Ogbaro as Bez / Jabberwock / Stop; Myles Miller as Eject; Paislie Reid as Alice; Steve Simmonds as Rewind / Record
RUNNING TIME (approx):
2 hours 20 minutes, including interval
This production contains pyrotechnics, haze, loud music and loud noises
The Theatre Royal Plymouth is the principle home of the performing arts in the South West and is the largest and most attended regional producing theatre in the country. Their mission is to develop and deepen people's engagement with pioneering creativity in Plymouth and the South West, delivering experiences that spark delight, expression and fulfilment. The venue offers three performance spaces of various sizes, the largest being The Lyric which accommodates the big touring productions. The Drum and The Lab are smaller, intimate spaces and often offer pioneering productions and I have personally seen some excellent productions in these spaces.