Alice in Wonderland – Project Arts Centre – Review by Frank L.
Blue Raincoat Theatre Company – Alice in Wonderland
Dates: 04 Mar – 16 Mar – Show Time: 7.30pm
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll adapted by Jocelyn Clarke
Blue Raincoat Theatre, founded in 1991 by Niall Henry and Malcolm Hamilton, is based in Sligo. In the intervening years they have produced a series of innovative productions which have toured throughout Ireland. In that fine tradition, Blue Raincoat brought Shackleton to Dublin most recently last year. They now bring a new production of Alice in Wonderland, which utilises Jocelyn Clarke’s 1999 script, to the Project Arts Centre in Dublin.
The eponymous Alice appears in two guises, namely as an Older Alice (Hilary Bowen-Walsh) and as a Younger Alice (Miriam Needham). The White Rabbit/Cheshire Cat, Mad Hattter, March Hare/ Queen of Hearts and Caterpillar/Duchess are played respectively by John Carty, Brian Devaney, Sean Elliott and Sandra O’Malley who are a group of of actors who have performed many times together under the Blue Raincoat banner. They are a finely honed ensemble. Older Alice tells the details of the story while Younger Alice performs what is being described. We are back in that fantastical world of what happens to Alice when she follows the White Rabbit down the most famous of rabbit holes.
The set design of Paul McDonnell delightfully plays with scale, as there is a series of different sized three-legged tables which indicate whether Younger Alice is getting smaller or taller while a small wooden frame of a house indicates that Younger Alice has become huge because, in order to fit into it, she has to stick her leg up the chimney. These transformations occur effortlessly as this troupe of actors perform minor but vitally important tasks such as Carty, Devaney and Elliott unobtrusively holding a leg each of the biggest three-legged table.
Bowen-Walsh has auburn coloured long hair which coupled with her simple dress makes her look like a pre-Raphaelite innocent from the nineteenth century. She has a poise and remoteness about her which gives her a sense of coming from another world. Needham is all go and buzz as if she was just wound up. Her skill is apparent early on, as she frenetically tries to unlock the doors to the room in which she is trapped but to no avail. Her fears and frustrations are palpable. At the other end of the emotional scale, O’Malley’s Caterpillar and Duchess are more measured and remote. There are many terrific scenes not least the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
Suitably for life in a rabbit hole, the lighting remains subtly and suitably dim thanks to the skills of Barry McKinney, so much so that at the very beginning the actors’ presence is almost impossible to perceive on the stage.
For the hour plus that the play lasts the audience is transported anew into the world of Lewis Carroll’s classic rabbit hole. Ireland is fortunate to have the Sligo-based Blue Raincoat Theatre Company so consistently producing theatre of this quality. This is theatre which challenges and enchants. It transports. Do not miss it..