Reviewed by Zuzi Fort
Concealed in the midst of wilderness, tucked away in the greenery of Western Sydney, is a hidden gem of culture and excitement. Excitement of all types: musical, visual, gastronomical, and, of course, dramatic and theatrical. Last night, I found myself visiting and enjoying the atmosphere and thrill of this delightful place once again.
Not only was I overjoyed that I didn’t have to spend hours and hours searching for parking because there were ample spaces available, and free at that! I didn’t have to argue with anybody over whether I was a centimetre over their line or not. I simply cruised in, elegantly breaking and gently stopping my carriage, albeit not horse-drawn (but with horsepower under the bonnet!).
Elegantly (that means not tripping over my own or my daughters’ feet), I exited my modern-day coach and my daughters, and I sauntered into a whole new world. The realm of pleasures where your every whim is fulfilled, and dreams may even come true. Yes, the picturesque West HQ, where the welcoming staff helped us all sign in. After that, it was only a skip and a hop and a ride up a set of escalators and a promenade across the glass bridge. Where may you ask? Into the magical kingdom of Sydney Coliseum Theatre and the world of utter and complete nonsense. And as I like to say, there is no sense like nonsense, or as Roald Dahl said, “a little nonsense now, and then is cherished by the wisest men.”
With a daughter on each side, I found myself falling into a rabbit hole and entering a magical, mystical, metaphorical world of Alice in Wonderland.
This literary treasure has graced The Colosseum’s stage for a brief season, but it was a moment I shall treasure forever. Not only did I see both my girls laugh, regardless of their age, even the 20-year-old had a fabulous time. I particularly enjoyed watching this classic staged without too much pomp and special effects. It was pure and simple theatre – relying on the skill and talent of the cast and crew.
Yes, Alice in Wonderland has been done and done and done again. It’s a movie, it is a musical, a ballet and a lot more. However, this production has stuck to its gun, so to speak, and created a truly theatrical production, avoiding special effects. With clever lighting and the inventive use of props and costumes, Alice was able to shrink and grow at will. With the help of a number of beautiful puppets and their masterful puppeteers, we encountered talking animals as they interacted with some good old favourites, including the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Caterpillar. We even saw the Cheshire Cat and the rather wicked Queen of Hearts with her big booming voice and her ample bosom.
The entire cast was frabjously fabulous as they brought each character to life. Éowyn Turner was the one and only Alice. She effortlessly transitioned between bewilderment and determination as she fearlessly travelled along her way. Simon Burvell-Holmes is the ultimate Queen of Hearts and the sly Cheshire Cat. Anthony Craig stands out as the transforming Caterpillar and the Doormouse. That said, everyone on stage contributed equally to creating this magical experience.
The entire play moved effortlessly from scene to scene. Each transition was done in a smooth and entertaining fashion as a chorus of narrators, much like the original Greek chorus of the olden days, transported us from location to location while cleverly moving sets and props, creating one enchanting scene after another.
The costume design was colourful and just a tad odd to fit in with the overall theme of nonsense literature. The set was well-designed and allowed Alice to travel through an entire world of imagination created for us by Lewis Carroll.
Some new additions by Penny Farrow, who adapted the script and directed the production, introduced a few up-to-date, modern references, some for the kids, some for the adults and some for the kids in the adults. The script was sprinkled with amusing play on words with a pun here and a pun there, beautifully highlighting the creative genius of Lewis Carroll. In fact, those who (like me) are fans of Alice’s adventures and fans of Lewis Carrol would have realised this play draws not only from Alice in Wonderland but also from Alice Through the Looking-Glass, The Hunting of the Snark and Rhyme? And Reason? (a collection of Carroll’s poems).
The length was just right. Not too long, not too short. A little after-dinner dessert to titillate the senses. I believe my daughter summed it up when she said she wanted to see more and more and more and that it was not nearly long enough. You always want to keep the audience wanting more, and that’s what happened here. My daughter has now discovered this beautiful nonsensical world and has dug up my trusty Alice in Wonderland book and is now pondering its contents, scanning the illustrations, and reading along, stumbling over some of those funny, funky, crazy words.
In her forward, Penny said: “I love the idea of introducing a child to theatre - or indeed continuing an existing love for it - with a story that celebrates wild imagination and creativity through humour and beautiful, yet silly, language.” She certainly succeeded.