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Alice in Wonderland—no child’s play

Friday, December 5, 2014
Alice pleads with White Rabbit while the Duchess scoffs in Alice in Wonderland. Photos: Wesley Gibbings

Student theatre director Zwena Joseph would probably agree that she could not have chosen a more challenging script for her contribution to the UWI Theatre Arts’ Festival of Plays which ended last Sunday on the St Augustine Campus.

Brainerd Duffield’s theatrical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland adds abundant contemporary spice to the 1865 literary classic, but it offers as many potential pitfalls as opportunities for wholesome entertainment. Duffield had actually synthesised 14 episodes from both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.

Annalisa Wickham’s interpretation of the wordy lead role of Alice swayed wildly from delightfully entertaining to simply irritating. It might have been, in the end, a bit much for the diminutive actress whose great potential is there for all to see, but whose entry into the lion’s den of magical fantasy is as a deceptively complex character with simply too much to say.

UWI theatre arts mentors would have known that Duffield’s script was no child’s play. The creative freedom Joseph spoke of at the end of the performance in fact took her to a place that tested everyone from the director herself to her clunky 27-member cast to her production and stage management teams.

On a stage full of young, energetic talent, there will always be many bright moments, though. Allan Augustine’s large, imposing frame belied his delicate treatment of the bungling, light-headed White Rabbit and Jonathon Thatcher is convincing and natural as Caterpillar. The mushroom double entendre would have flown over the tiny heads of a sizeable infant audience, but most adults looked knowingly at each other, chuckled aloud and applauded the scene.

There was also the Duchess, played by Gabrielle Scott and Aaron St Louis’ artful representation of Humpty Dumpty. Idrees Saleem’s Mad Hatter and Renaldo Frederick as the March Hare also exhibited superb comedic timing.

The irascible Queen of Hearts is played by Regina Seabrun and the magnificently attired White Queen by Michelle Pilgrim.

The wardrobe team is not mentioned in the credits, but they did an expert job. So too did the makeup artists. The stage and lighting crews however did not fare as well and there were too many mishaps before a paying crowd allowed to enter the auditorium one hour late. A set comprising so many moving parts calls for a level of precision not always evident on the night. 

Children are also perhaps the harshest critics of all. Those in the audience slept when the moment called for sleep, laughed out loud when required and simply wanted to go home near the end.

Following a late start owing to a campus-wide blackout earlier in the day, close to two hours of Alice in Wonderland could have turned out to be an act of cynical brutality. Its saving grace was the natural flow of the Wonderland story which moves from skit to skit—14 in all—and the fact that Alice confronts both the outright zany and the subtly parodic in her journey through Wonderland.

Full marks to Joseph for her tenacity and vision. Directing a show of this magnitude could not have been an easy job.

Let’s keep an eye on this young talent. She has places to go.


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