Our Chief Article Writer, Daisy Leigh-Phippard, visited AUB Performances’ ‘Alice’. Here’s what she had to say…
Photos by Ewa Ferdynus
Opening night always has a gravity to it in the theatre; it’s the first time away from the comforts of asking for a line, or being able to take just a little longer on that one fiddly costume change. It’s when things get real, and that comes with a lot of pressure – and, of course, excitement. So when I went to see AUB’s acting show of Alice by Laura Wade on it’s opening night, I couldn’t help but feel that anticipation both for and with the cast and crew themselves. I needn’t have. They smashed it.
The production is a collaboration between the acting and costume courses, and tells the well-loved story with exuberance with some affectionate twists. To be honest, for a lot of the time you’re sitting there smiling, wondering what is happening – which is exactly what you want from a retelling of the story that happily boasts ‘everyone’s mad here’.
Wade’s adaptation takes a video game perspective of Alice’s strange journey, giving it a modern depth and soul that speaks out to contemporary audiences. It deals with grief and adulthood, as well as the escapism and wonder of the original. Luke Kernaghan’s – the director’s – choice to align the adaptation with the traditional whimsy of the novel in terms of production design and atmosphere pushed that nostalgic and uncomfortable growing-up period that the piece fits so well.
The two-sidedness of the story wasn’t the only dimensionality the production achieved; the characters themselves have both real-world personas and wonderland counterparts, reminiscent of those in The Wizard of Oz. This gave the cast the opportunity to show off all their abilities in multiple roles – which they definitely took advantage of. Seeing the reasonably small cast fall into multiple performances in different costume was almost seamless, attesting to the skill of all those involved.
The side characters really shone out, actually. To name specifics would take up the whole article in itself. The production also somehow took it a step further and incorporated music into the show. The ‘Wonderband’ turned up at various points to turn up the comedy a few notches, and take full advantage of their multi-talented cast.
Alice herself was the ultimate pre-teen; frustrated, full of tantrums, and emotionally confused with good intentions at the centre of her character. I found little pieces of myself from that crossover age in the brilliant performance of a conflicted young adult that doesn’t understand how to deal with growing up (sorry mum). It dealt with the border of childhood and adulthood without being patronising, teaching the audience to ‘go straight to the heart’ of your emotions.
Credit is also due, of course, to the wonderful costume department whose influence was invaluable for the show. Taking both the old fashions of the novel’s context and its modern retelling into consideration, the team created a wonderful selection that mixed rag tag modern implements and colours just as vibrant as the performances to bring the characters to life. The White Rabbit’s white-leather jacket and bike helmet; the hand-knitted coat of the Hatter; the roses scattered across the Queen of Hearts’ arms; the plastic forks making up the March Hare’s ears. Each was more impressive than the last.
Alice was a show that took the risk of being exaggerated and comic, while balancing it with explorations of grief and escapism. Each department took pride in their work, and it all paid off. Overall, the show was a touching and enjoyable production capturing the true spirit of the original story – ‘there are things in this world we can’t understand’, but that doesn’t make them any less important.
Words by Daisy Leigh-Phippard, Photographs by Ewa Ferdynus