A West End quality show at a fraction of West End prices and close-up seating also, something even higher-cost London tickets don’t deliver – that sums up the dynamic, colorful and zany ‘Alice: The Musical’ at Belfast’s Lyric Theatre.
Upon first entering the auditorium one senses this may be a humdinger of a show, what with the name ALICE in big illuminated ‘Las Vegas’ like letters across the stage and two giant moveable eyes that seem to rove around the audience.
Not to mention the delectable Charlotte McCurry dressed demurely as a ginger-haired, striped Cheshire cat narrating many of the scenes, joined quickly by the twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee played hilariously by Rea Campbell-Hill and Mark Dugdale, acting the roles of two highly-strung actors squabbling about which of them is the best performer.
Even if they didn’t open their mouths to speak, which they do incessantly to great effect, one could not be but immensely amused, dressed uproariously as they are in vivid tartan pants, black bowler hats with shocks of red hair beneath, emerald green socks and in-your-face checkered coats.
And this brings me to one of many kudos this show rightly deserves – to the costume designers. Hardworking Gillian Lennox and Erin Charteris must have had a ball of a time putting together the flamboyant outfits that flashed across the stage during this two hour madcap show. From the psychedelic, ‘60s hippy-like outfit of the Mad Hatter, played by the irrepressible Dugdale, to the caterpillar whose fear of heights prevents him wanting to be a butterfly, the white rabbit and knight and the door-mouse, all the delightful stuff of fantasy.
Which is, of course, what Lewis Carroll’s much-loved novel is, isn’t it? Well yes and no. Within this whacky tale are some compelling complex life questions about identity, imagination and learning, issues brought out brilliantly throughout the performance. Take, for example, the beginning of the story in which Alice, a bored child in class learning by rote, allows her imagination to take wing, leading her eventually down a rabbit hole. Should such imaginative wanderings be encouraged? Or deplored, as was the teacher’s reaction?
The question of individual identity? Does the Cheshire Cat and Alice’s discussion on the theme of ‘not being at home’ hint at larger issues about being our true selves and how we all often hide behind masks? And what is the significance of Alice’s advice to the White Knight about being different and how taking the lead is important?
Or, even the idea of words and their relationship to meaning. ‘How come there are no ‘Bs’ in hive,’ Alice and her new friends say flippantly. But is there more to Carroll’s thinking?
And what of the incomprehensible Tea Party. Mere frivolity? Or something more serious? Satirical commentary upon some of our overly-respected political institutions and traditions? (by the way, does anyone know, did the Tea Party foster the Peoples Front of Judea in the film, ‘Life Of Brian’?)
Aside from costumes, high praise goes to a stellar cast of seven, most of whom play multiple roles, with such zest it’s hard to choose one over another. They also dance effortlessly under the terrific choreographic direction of Deborah Maguire, and their talents aren’t restricted to acting and dancing. Many sing, superbly, with McCurry, Ruby Campbell as Alice, Allison Harding as The Queen of Hearts and Mark Dugdale as the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter and Tweedledee being exceptional.
Not only does director-cum-orchestrator-and-musical-director Paul Boyd and all the team at the Lyric present a West End quality show, the songs, the showmanship, the costumes, the songs, the dancing, are so much superior to ‘Wicked’ at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.