There’s a sense of wonder in the Lyceum as a series of hot air balloons held together with string and that could have been made by an enthusiastic Victorian schoolboy float around the starry ceiling of the cosy auditorium.
But this year’s Christmas show, directed by Anthony Neilson, is not about that fictitious boy but about a little Victorian girl. And not a studious earnest one, but a dreamy, sleepy girl called Alice who drifts off while trying to recite a poem to her tutor on a hot sunny day and enters a mad, illogical dream world where she grows and shrinks just by taking a sip of a strange drink or a bite of mysterious food; that’s full of talking animals and peculiar characters and is ruled by a despotic queen who rules her fawning subjects with a fiendish hand.
From the placid grassy late Victorian idyll that’s all tweed knickerbockers, high necked blouses, caps and lace up boots where we are reminded that ‘life is but a dream’, we quickly move to the inexplicable topsy turvy and magnificently realised world that is Wonderland.
In Lyceum Christmas show tradition, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland doesn’t slip into panto mode. Other than what feels almost like a bit of an afterthought in the exuberant finale, there’s no audience interaction though the Lobster quadrille sequence is a lost opportunity for folk to sedately join in. The cast pops up in boxes now and again but that apart there’s no breaking of the flimsy pantomime wall. David Carlyle’s exquisite White Rabbit running about holding his bottom as the executioner’s axe is looming over his furry head is the closest we get to a rude joke. But all that is made up for in spades (and hearts and clubs!) in this innovative, sumptuous and gorgeously realised production of Lewis Carroll’s classic surreal tale by a dream team.
Sailor suited Alice, beautifully played by Jess Peet in her professional stage debut, is the Northern star to the rest of the seven-strong versatile cast who morph through a galaxy of characters all in eye poppingly fabulous costumes and against the utterly magical set from Francis O’Connor where some excellent clowning takes place.
Tam Dean Burn’s main role of The Hatter is played in suitable manic style but it is his depiction of the Duchess’ Baby that is most hilarious. No spoilers! Suffice to say that the design team is on top form. Zoë Hunter is sublime as the hookah smoking sarcastic Caterpillar and as the forgetful floundering Fish but David Carlyle, who takes on the roles of White Rabbit, the March Hare and the Gryphon, is utterly outstanding in each.
Add some clever visuals from Jamie MacDonald, truly marvellous music and sounds from Nick Powell that includes what sounds like an apt wee nod to the Madness song Driving in my Car with the bashing of pots and pans at the Duchess’ house, some smart puppetry and you have an all-round terrific piece of bright crazy theatre for the festive season and beyond.
If you love a healthy dose of puns and fun and a good helping of general unfathomableness, enter the curious colourful wonderland at the Lyceum and you might just leave grinning like the Cheshire Cat!
26 November – 31 December 2016 times vary