Saturday, December 01, 2018

Alice: The Musical – dropping down a rabbit hole to explore a surreal Wonderland (Lyric Theatre until 5 January)

It’s been a strong year of performance at the Lyric in their 50th anniversary year, and they’re finishing it off with a revival of Paul Boyd’s rocky and crowd-pleasing Alice: The Musical, twenty years after its Lyric première.

Back in May, Ruby Campbell was clinging on to the death-defying heights of the verdant set of Lovers: Winners and Losers. Tonight as Alice, she dropped through a rabbit hole into Wonderland to hand back a lost glove to The White Rabbit and bring some logical order to the madness of the Queen of Hearts’ kingdom.

Battling to escape this puzzling new world, she encounters familiar characters from Lewis Carroll’s fantasy novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Charlotte McCurry (Bella in last year’s Beauty and the Beast) musically narrates key moments and transitions as the wiry The Cheshire Cat, perched up high to one side of the set.

Ruby Campbell’s voice adeptly switches from Alice’s gentler numbers to belting out power ballads. Allison Harding brings much-feared and temperamental Queen of Hearts to life, showing off her alto voice and tapdancing skills, while Christina Nelson provides comic relief among the stalls and up on stage.

Rea Campbell-Hill and Adam Dougal warm the audience up as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but it’s the knockout charisma of Mark Dugdale as the flamboyant flamenco Caterpillar who inspires the Lyric audience to spontaneously clap along and stamp their feet as the energy of the performance combines with the music, lyrics and Deborah Maguire’s brisk choreography to create a special moment for young and old.

The Lyric’s main auditorium is most effective when it’s hosting spoken theatre and its hard surfaces and PA system tend not to lend themselves to layering amplified voices over thumping music tracks. At times Paul Boyd’s clever lyrics and the cast’s harmonies were drowned out; though so too were any distracting noises from young children. Hopefully the balance can be improved during the run.

Stuart Marshall’s set slowly reveals its layers and the chunky props serve the story well. Pedants will notice that the red book that Alice carries shrinks and grows during the performance even though the dimensional aspects of the story are quickly dropped from the narrative. Maths buffs may also spot a likely typo in one projected equation.

Cat suits and red leather dresses are clearly de jour in Belfast theatre shows for children this year. Thankfully also in vogue are intelligent lyrics, stylish scores, and entire casts who can sing in tune.
“I wanted an adventure / a story of my own / the grass is always greener / when it’s growing far from home”

While I’m not yet certain which characters were playing Michel Barnier, Theresa May and Boris Johnson, I’m pretty sure there’s a reading of Alice: The Musical that sees the UK having jumped down a Brexit hole and struggling to find a way through the nonsensical and illogical negotiations and repercussions. If only NI politicians were as easy to reassure as the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party: tea is indeed the answer to everything!

Alice: The Musical is a stylish production with a big sound, a surreal story and a lot of laughs. It runs in the Lyric Theatre until Sunday 6 January.

Photo credit: Melissa Gordon

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