Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
The Lyceum’s Alice is a sumptuous affair, with a gorgeously decadent design aesthetic. Of course, the imagery is all there in the source material (by which I mean both Lewis Carroll’s novel and John Tenniel’s original illustrations), but it’s beautifully realised here by designer Francis O’Connor, with a set and costumes that are at once familiar and completely new. The script focuses on some of the lesser-known scenes from the book – that is to say, those not immortalised by Disney: the duchess and the pig-baby; the mock-turtle and the gryphon – but sensibly includes the most dynamic moments too: we’re not deprived of the tea-party, nor the ‘off-with-her-head’ trial. And the special effects are truly mesmerising, with Alice’s final transformation a particular delight.
If there are problems, some of them lie with the tale itself: it’s an episodic story, famed more for its eclectic characters than for any narrative thrust. This Alice doesn’t even seem too bothered about finding her way home and, without this aim, the play is lacking any real drive; there’s just no sense of peril here. Some scenes work well anyway – giant Alice trapped in the rabbit’s house, for example – but others are somehow lacklustre, let down in part by the music, which just isn’t toe-tapping enough for a children’s show (although it might sound better if the singers were mic’d so we could actually hear the lyrics properly).
Jess Peet, making her professional debut here, is a lively and appealing Alice. And the ensemble cast work well together, convincingly populating Wonderland, although there are only nine of them. Their brief moments of audience interaction feel a little grafted-on, but all-in-all this is a decent show, and the kids in the audience certainly seem enthralled.