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Alice in Wonderland, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review with pictures

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When the girl with a vivid imagination dozes off during a boring history lesson, a cheerful white rabbit whisks her away to somewhere far more exciting.

Lucie Farrimond as Alice. Pic: Jon Keeling for PMA productions

It’s a place, he says, “where all things walk, all things talk, and some even voted for Brexit. Of course it’s Wonderland! Where do you think you are – Market Drayton?”

I have gate-crashed a performance of Alice in Wonderland for local schoolchildren at the Festival Centre and luckily for the audience of six- and seven-year-olds there is no further mention of Brexit but plenty to stimulate their imagination.

Back for their ninth consecutive year, touring company PMA Productions deliver an Alice well-pitched for their audience.

It’s fast paced and the host of characters Alice meets on her journey are strongly drawn and beautifully costumed. Lively song and dance routines embellish the storytelling, a water-gun fight round the auditorium provokes deafening squeals, and a light show produces gasps of awe.

Fiona Egan as Queen of Hearts and Scott Worsfold as Knave of Hearts. Pic: Jon Keeling for PMA productions

Adapter and director George Critchley has peppered his text with plenty of age-appropriate puns, often repeated to encourage understanding, and he has kept just enough of Lewis Carroll’s wonderful plays with logic to give youngsters a sense of literary nonsense: “But you can’t have more if you haven’t had any,” Alice says when offered another cup of tea. “You can always have more than nothing,” answers the Mad Hatter.

As she hurtles from one episode to the next, Alice is motivated almost entirely by her desire to find the White Rabbit and the way back to her own world. She is played with a light touch and innocent charm by Lucie Farrimond, whose challenges to surreal authority are fairly minimal.

There’s nothing light, however, about the quality of her voice, which is crystal clear and strong whether in her beautifully articulated spoken dialogue or her lyrical singing.

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In contrast to Alice’s received diction, the supporting cast of four, playing more than a score of characters between them, give us a Cheshire cat with a Scottish accent, a Duchess from East Lancs, a touch-of-Brummie Caterpillar, a Cockney March Hare, and a distinctly West- Country-sounding Humpty Dumpty.

An eclectic musical score, including numerous well-known tunes, is interpreted by four young dancers from the Heritage Dance Academy of Stockton-on-Tees.

Will Cousins as Mad Hatter. Pic: Jon Keeling for PMA productions

A highlight for me was an underwater scene after Alice’s encounter with the Mock Turtle.

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Gorgeously dressed and illuminated puppets danced as if on their own to a cheerful calypso tune with steel drums and a subterranean echo, as sparkling lights flickered like luminescence around the auditorium. It was a moment of theatrical magic.

When Alice awakes in her Oxford garden, the White Rabbit brings us back to earth by asking, pantomime style, whether we thought it was all just a dream. ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ competed vigorously, and I reckon the verdict was about fifty-fifty. Curiouser and curiouser, I thought.

By John Hargreaves

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