Alice – Lyric Theatre – Review by Cathy Brown
Until January 5th
It has been a busy year for the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, as they have celebrated their 50th anniversary. They end the year on a high with this winning production of Paul Boyd’s Alice: The Musical, which debuted at the theatre 20 years ago.
As with the best family shows, Alice: The Musical is a wonderful and accessible creation. Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of the smart English girl who disappears down a rabbit hole in the middle of a boring school lesson only to find herself in Wonderland is rejuvenated with all the flair and musical wit you would expect from writer and director Paul Boyd.
The ensemble cast of seven play multiple roles around Ruby Campbell’s bright, sassy and determined Alice. Campbell is a winning presence with a strong singing voice and her Alice is much more than just a foil for the madness going on around her.
Narrated by Charlotte McCurry’s slinky Cheshire Cat the plot is a parade of strong set pieces, from Christina Nelson’s perpetually rushed White Rabbit; hilariously precious actors Tweedledum & Tweedledee (Adam Dougal and Rea Campbell-Hill); the White Knight (Adam Dougal) with his ineffective inventions and a delightful, rather than a mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Allison Harding invests her Queen of Hearts with a wonderfully comic petulance and her initial appearance on stage drew gasps from the little people who came along with me.
However, special mention must go to Mark Dugdale as the Caterpillar (with support from the rest of the cast) who steals the show. Bringing the spirit of Brazilian Carnival to Belfast, his outrageously funny samba-inspired Nothing Here Makes Sense number is worth the ticket price alone.
Stuart Marshall’s set is simple but incredibly effective while Paul Keogan’s lighting and Matt Cregan’s audio visuals add a real depth to the proceedings, creating a magical sense of distortion and wonder. Gillian Lennox and Erin Charteris update the well-known imagery of the story through their costuming and Deborah Maguire’s choreography is sharp and focused within the confines of the Lyric stage.
What raises this show beyond the usual Christmas theatrical fayre are Boyd’s excellent songs, from Alice’s heartfelt Home to the Queen of Hearts cabaret-inspired Have Heart, complete with an impressive tap-dance routine. It helps that all the cast are strong singers, although at times the backing track overwhelms some of the vocals, particularly during the quieter numbers. The pacing drops a little at the start of the second half, which could have been a touch shorter to hold the attention of the younger audience members, but the megamix encore that closes the show ensured that all the audience were on their feet.
Alice: The Musical is a mini-triumph, serving all the verve and energy of a West End show through the engaging performances of this enthusiastic cast, while at the same time gently drawing out the themes of growing up and finding your own place in the world.
The two eight year olds who came along with me declared the show ‘brilliant’ and ‘funny’ and their attention never wavered. Even their musical-averse Dad declared it fantastic entertainment. The Lyric has produced a real gem of a show, infectiously mixing sparky, energetic performances, great songs and good old-fashioned storytelling to capture the imagination of all the family.