ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND – Holland Park, London.
Until the 1st of August, Will Todd and Maggie Gottlieb‘s operatic version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is being performed amongst the trees in the beautiful Holland Park. On a warm sunny day, the setting couldn’t be lovelier. With dappled summer light illuminating the colourful sets, and an enthusiastic cast in weird and wonderful costumes, it’s easy to pretend you really are in Wonderland. The outdoor setting means that the talented singers and nuanced score are sometimes hard to hear – if you are keen to sample Todd’s musical composition, then it may be best to wait until November when Alice moves to the Linbury Studio Theatre. However, if you’re looking for an immersive Wonderland experience, Holland Park is where you’ll find it.
Todd and Gottlieb have nicely captured the spirit of Lewis Carroll’s famous children’s story. Alice’s first adventure with a human-sized bottle who, with a joyful cadenza (charismatically performed by Maud Millar) encourages Alice to ‘drink me’, is suitably silly and will warm children to the peculiar aspects of Opera. When Alice joins a school class led by Humpty Dumpty, the audience is treated to libretto rife with the kind of nonsense that makes Carroll’s story so enjoyable. The characterisation is also spot-on. Particularly memorable is the White Knight (John Lofthouse) who trundles out from behind the trees with armour made pots and pans and a toy horse trailing behind him like something out of Monty Python. His pantomime-esq humour, the snippets of ‘Haddock’s Eyes’, and his description of his horse’s spiked anklets (to protect him from forest-dwelling sharks) goes down very well. Caterpillar’s green goatee and soulful baritone (Keel Watson) are also very pleasing, and the Cheshire Cat (Magid El-Bushra), with his brilliant falsetto and marvellous electric blue wig is a particular delight.
However, the production isn’t quite perfect. The occasional jokes and satire don’t evoke much more than polite titters. And although there is enough nonsense there to prove that transporting Carroll’s rhymes into opera is a great idea, one can’t help feeling some opportunities have been missed. Alice’s solo, for example, is beautifully sung by Rosanne Havel, but isn’t quite as captivating as the crazier scenes.
Alice has plenty to entertain children (or the child inside), but for their parents the big draw is the music. It’s jovial and quirky, with show-tunes and blues mixed with more classical elements. The cast are all excellent singers, and the ‘Alice band’ delivers a rich soundscape in spite of its small size. The Victorians, who usher the audience from set to set, are also a surprising highlight. They interact with the audience, amuse the children, and turn the scene transitions into performances in themselves.
It is not a perfect production, but Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland beautifully captures the playful aspects of Carroll’s popular story and is a charming way to introduce children to opera.
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By Andrea White
16th July – 1st August 2015
The Yukka Lawn, Holland Park, London, W8 6PW
5th – 7th November 2015
Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London, WC2E 9DD.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland