(Clare Brennan’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/12; via Pam Green; Photo: Eleanor Fransch, ‘sassy’ in the role of Alice. Photograph: Andrew Billington.)
New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme
An underprivileged Alice fights for the wonder of book-learning in Theresa Heskin’s transformative take on Carroll’s classic tale
Astubby barge manoeuvres through a lock and moors alongside a clutch of canalside bottle kilns (smoking projections from Daniella Beattie). On board, a curious Alice bombards her hardworking parents with impossible questions. Only one is answered: “What’s for tea?” “An onion in hot water and a pinch of powdered pepper,” replies her “mam”. If the girl wants more, she’d better go and see what she can find in town.
The inspiration for director Theresa Heskins’s adaptation is Lewis Carroll’s photograph of 10-year-old Alice Liddell (his model for the eponymous character), posed as a beggar girl, dressed in rags. Heskins’s Alice, too poor to afford an education, is indignant that books hold “a world of wonders I can’t know”. As she struggles to spell out the words “Eat me”, “Drink me”, it is clear that this Alice (sassy Eleanor Fransch) is determined to reach for the possibilities that reading opens up.
If the show’s message is moral, the method of delivery is spectacular. Having followed a magician (illusions by Darren Lang), with his white rabbit, into a theatre, Alice falls through a trap door and finds herself in a Wonderland that shares many of the same elements as Carroll’s original (and its Looking-Glass sequel). The skittish White Rabbit (Peter Watts) is still ever-late and the Mad Hatter (Danielle Bird) singing nonsense at the nonstop tea party (composer James Atherton’s jaunty live music, here and elsewhere, an auricular treat).