Posts Tagged ‘alice in wonderland’

Review – Alice in Wonderland – Opera Holland Park

July 23, 2015

If I’m honest, while I enjoy Alice in Wonderland, the thought of an opera made for children just sent shivers NOT of anticipation down my spine. How bad was it going to be? What would it take to keep children interested? And how could meeting that criterion possibly results in something that wouldn’t bore me? I’m not really an opera buff at the best of times, and the thought of seeing one of my favorite works of literature reduced to something cutesy and/or banal depressed me beyond words. But, you know, hope springs eternal, and thus I found myself wandering around Holland Park last Saturday, clutching my watch as I dashed down the pathways in the woods going, “I’m late! I’m late” and feeling just too ironic for words.

As it turns out, my fears were entirely unfounded; despite some sound quality issues that any outdoor performance (that moved to about five different areas) would have and a toddler who tried to stage rush the tea party, Will Todd’s Alice in Wonderland combined both excellent, lyrically witty music with some barbed social satire that made sure all members of the audience were entertained and engaged. The music was often of the overly modern sort I find not my style, yet I laughed out loud at the song, “Off With Their Heads,” made extra rich by a panto-dame style Queen of Hearts (Robert Burt). wI was surprised and pleased to see the Cheshire Cat (Magid el Bushra) was cast as a countertenor, meaning I could just sit and enjoy the luscious pleasure of his voice; like all of the side characters, he was richly defined, a trait that extended even to the comic Drink Me bottle (Maud Millar). I found myself caught up in the energy and fun of this show despite my initial misgivings, and I’m glad it was restaged and even more so to hear that it’s transferring to the Linbury in the fall; this is a fun miniature opera full of charm that makes for a perfect hour plus on any sunny summer day you might care to spend at the bottom of a rabbit hole cultivating cabbages and potential young opera fans, who I’m sure will be softened up properly by this show for fuller forays in the future.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, July 18th, 2015. It continues through August 1st.)

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Review – The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party – Zoonation at Royal Opera House

December 16, 2014

Magic at Christmas, to me, is having a company I follow worshipfully present an adaptation of a literary work I adore. No, Matthew Bourne is doing the same old same old at Sadler’s Wells (although the Royal Ballet is freshening things up by not doing the Nutcracker this year). No, ZooNation, who had me out of my seat and cheering to Some Like it Hip Hop and laughing and smiling with their Wizard of Oz have decided to tackle Alice in Wonderland. Getting two tickets together was nearly impossible, but the Royal Opera House‘s generous returns policy (and my persistent use of F5) finally paid off and a few days after opening night I was there (for a bizarrely timed 5PM Saturday start – never seen a show at that time before!).

Before I get into the dance, let me talk a little about the overall setting, which starts in the lobby of the Linbury. It’s set up like a tea party is going on, with tea pots on the tables, and there is a Mad Hatter’s picture booth where you can try on different headwear and take a photo. There are also a series of riddles written around the walls (tied into a prize giveaway). It’s all really fun and involving, although I really doubt the piece is entertaining enough for the 6 year olds I saw in the audience – 10 and over would be better. You’ve been warned.

The story, such as it is, is that strange Dr Ernest (Tommy Franzen) has been hired at a rather bizarre madhouse to lead group therapy sessions for an extremely deranged set of people. They aren’t deranged because collectively they represent the characters of Alice in Wonderland; no, they seem each to have their own quirk which needs to be dealt with. These quirk are expressed in a series of solo dances that take their greatest flight with the extremes of the Cheshire Cat (Duwane Taylor), a man who arrives in a straightjacket and, bursting it, is able to turn the external world into a flickering, blue lit chamber of extreme dub. But the highlight of these is the one duet, between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Rowen Hawkins and Ross Sands), whose high energy, Sumo-esque, belly slamming dance duel just rocked the house. I couldn’t have cared less that these two are so peripheral to the main story; watching them helicopter spin and bounce off of each other, I was leaping out of my chair with excitement – only no I wasn’t, because I was in the Linbury and most of the audience was only able to clap politely, not roar and cheer like I thought we should have been. Still: awesome.

And then it was act two, in which the mentally broken Ernest is taken to a tea party in Wonderland to see if the various people can put him back together again. This involves dancing across the table, getting a few lucky audience members in hats and jackets and right next to the action, flips and spins and overall wildness building to a conclusion that had us all clapping – Ernest rejects the clinicians (who had been hiding between the start and finish as our very talented musicians) and becomes one with Alice’s crew. Only … whoa, there were the rest of the audience, still sitting down politely, completely visible in transverse staging in all of their glued-to-their-seatsness. PEOPLE THIS WAS AWESOME HOW COULD YOU NOT RESPOND BETTER? All I can say is, me, I was thrilled to bits to get to see this great show in such an intimate environment, and I can’t wait for a chance to see it again, preferably at the Peacock and with a crowd of unrestrained people who will give it the roars of enthusiasm it deserves. I loved my trip down the rabbit hole! My only regret is a few of the Royal Ballet dancers didn’t get stuck in while ZooNation is in residence – I think the cross-pollination would have done both side marvels – and taken this show utterly over the top.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday, December 13, 2014. It continues through January 3rd. A few tickets keep becoming available so try looking now, you might get lucky!)

Review – Alice in Wonderland – Little Angel Theatre

January 11, 2011

The promise of a puppet version of Alice in Wonderland got me excited a good month before the Little Angel Theater’s production opened in November. Still, due to scheduling (and some sold-out shows), I wasn’t able to actually see it until January. I was excited to see how this classic tale could be told and enhanced through the use of puppets.

The characters – Alice, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter – were lovingly carved and full of personality. I often think the character of a puppet theater company comes out in the creatures they make to tell their shows, and the gang for this show were expressive and beautiful. There were also some great unusual “comedy” creatures, such as a house with legs, a talking bubble/triangle thing, and the disassembled cards (each with the various parts that added together to be a human – one with a head, one with arms, one with legs), that really added to the air of surrealism and unreality that make Alice such fun.

The performance took advantage of a variety of tricks to tell the unusual aspects of the story. The cards used actual paint to recolor the Queen’s roses – a literalness that could only work when the roses in question were made of paper- but Alice herself changed sizes not just through the use of different puppets, but through a wonderful shadowplay that used the trick of getting closer or further from the light to get larger and smaller. (The puppeteer in this case took the place of the puppet, but I am willing to forgive.) There was a bit with teacups in flowers that I’m pretty sure wasn’t in the original but was lovely and very appropriate to the feel of the story. And as for a talking key – well, what could be easier? This one even sang and danced in what I found a huge improvement over any bigger budget production.

However, I feel like the production had rather too many songs – it seemed like six or seven but could have been more. The first two I enjoyed, but I started getting yawny as the other ones took up time I thought might have better been applied to narrative. I’m not sure why Little Angel keeps doing shows with songs and shows with intervals; my belief is that Alice would have been better with most of the songs cut and just a straight-through show with no break. Still, it was full of magic and a very enjoyable afternoon – a treat for adults as well as children, and probably the best adaptation of Alice I’ve ever seen. Nice job, guys!

(This review is for the 11AM performance that took place on Saturday, January 8th, 2011. The production continues through January 30th, 2011.)