Alice In Wonderland At The Watermill Theatre

Hidden away on the edge of Newbury is a wonderful, small, independent theatre called The Watermill. Each year over the festive period they put on a ‘Christmas Production’, last year was Peter Pan, the year before Pinocchio and, as it 150 years since the original publication, this year was Alice in Wonderland.

I have been to quite a few now as it has become a bit of an annual family tradition that we would attend. It almost signified it was Christmas when we’d go out and watch a production. Originally, just my family (my older brother, parents and myself) would go, but over the years aunts and uncles have joined us as well. Sadly, with my brother now living outside the area and no extended relatives visiting this year, it was just me and my parents making the annual trip but, nevertheless, I was looking forward to it as much as always.

Mad Hatter's Tea Party - Alice In Wonderland

Sadly though, anorexia wasn’t. It likes control and dictates my life through routine and structure. Meals statically fall at the same daily times and any deviation from this is met with initial anxiety and panic. I have learnt I can survive eating my normal food at a different time, as irregular one offs. But moving when, and what, I eat proves nearly impossible. So, it’s fair to say this year’s Christmas production had me on edge. You see, it was “on stage” when I’d normally eat, and while a meal is offered, and taken, on-site beforehand, it would be eaten very early and the quality varies horrendously year to year.

This year, was sadly, one of their worse. I had a loin of cod with vegetables and baby potatoes. It was tiny as portions go, on a normal sized dinner plate I had more empty space than food. It truly looked like the main part of the meal was missing. It would have looked small on a side dish! Unsurprisingly, I polished it off in a matter of minutes, and went into mental meltdown. That was dinner. That’s all my mind would allow. It was hours till breakfast and I couldn’t mentally accept anything else but hunger. As I sat waiting for the show to start, all I truly wanted was to leave and come home before it had even begun.

With my mind all over the place, I truly didn’t expect to enjoy it. Especially as the last few years the tone of the production has switched from a stage production to more of a comedic pantomime. I really wasn’t in the mood for a slapstick infused attempt at a serious story. But thankfully, that wasn’t what I received.

Alice Down The Rabbit Hole - Thinking, Fast And Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This year the story had returned to the original roots as a serious story acceptably littered with the odd joke rather than “he’s behind you” audience participation and bad one-liners that was creeping in. While the tone was vastly improved the actual story felt a little bit flat. I don’t actually know Lewis Carroll’s tale in any detail. I know Alice falls down a rabbit hole and goes to a tea party. After that, anything could happen. And it appears it did. While I was able to follow the plot of A to B to C each felt unconnected and confusing. I really didn’t understand at times why things were happening or what exactly the greater meaning of it was. I will admit though, even though I only connected with it on a very superficial level, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. I think, however, this was down purely to the cast.

More often than not, the cast return/reappear from year to year. Faces become familiar and this year was no exception. Alice, however, was played by, Watermill newcomer, Josie Dunn and I actually think she did a convincing job. Initially I was panicked about the inflection of her voice in the opening songs she sang but even that fear wavered out and I quickly bought into her and the character she was bringing to life. She felt inviting and warm and welcoming.

Josie Dunn, Oliver Izod & Ed Thorp - Alice In Wonderland

For me though, it was returning performers Oliver Izod and Ed Thorpe who absolutely stole the show. Even if Thorpe does at one point appear to channel not only the look, but personality, of Radar O’Reilly from M*A*S*H* into his performance! Their enthusiasm and commitment to their multiple parts was joyous, perfectly blending humour and seriousness to make you forget they weren’t really a white rabbit, mad hatter or mock turtle. Their interactions with Dunn as Alice make the production though and it’s noticeable when they are not on stage that a small spark is lost. Thankfully though, they are never off stage for long.

That lack of spark was highlighted best by the performances of Zara Ramm as the Queen of Hearts who really was giving it her best pantomime over-exaggeration when the spotlight shone directly at her, although that wasn’t very often. Worse still though was Polly Highton who looked a little like she had been roped in at the last minute and, almost, orated each song in an attempt to hide the potential weakness of her voice. As I’ve mentioned everyone else, it seems rude not to mention the final cast member, Alex Tomkins. He just blends into the background though, and in reality, his performance never seems to stand out or be noticeable. He’s just the ever present noise that you don’t really notice.

Because my mind was falling apart due to the pre-show meal, I expected to hate Alice for reasons it stood no chance of overturning. But I was wrong because I didn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was easily one of the best Christmas productions I have been to. I still have no exact idea what half of it was about, aside from being potentially a tale of drug induced madness hidden within a children’s story. But whatever it may be, I don’t mind, because it took over my mind and made me forgot my own problems and that is recommendation enough, because very few things have the power, quality or engrossing pull to do that when anorexia has run riot.

Posted on by 5WC in Stage First Edition

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