Christmas at the Sherman Theatre has become to my family part of what makes Christmas. As my children have grown, they’ve transitioned from the productions for younger children to sitting mesmerised in the main house. This year’s production for ages 7 and older is Alice in Wonderland.
This year I was nervous. I have inadvertently put Christmas at the Sherman on a pedestal. And whilst I was giddy with excitement at kick-starting our Christmas with a trip to the Sherman, it suddenly dawned on me that my expectations might be too high.
Mike Kenny has adapted Alice in Wonderland for the stage. In doing so not only creating musical theatre but incorporating a modern twist whilst maintaining Lewis Carroll’s magic. Rachel O’Riordan delicately unpicks the themes in this retelling whilst retaining the absurd.
The audience introduced to an older Alice, sitting her exams, and feeling peer pressure. We join Alice as she explores the need to have the freedom to choose her own path. In doing this understanding that she doesn’t have to measure up to other people’s expectations. This is neatly balanced with the injection of fun and wit created through the realisation of Lewis Carroll’s most memorable characters.In her last show as Artistic Director at the Sherman, it feels like Rachel O’Riordan is taking the opportunity to celebrate the best of Wales. With an all Welsh/ Wales based cast and creative team, the talent seems boundless. With multiple roles adopted by the cast, somehow through nine actors the tale of Alice in Wonderland unfolds, and astounds younger children with the fluid pace of character changes.
And these nine actors keep true to previous productions, offering a true ensemble piece. As is now tradition in the Sherman’s Christmas productions, live music is integral to the performances, in this, and the comic timing, the ensemble stand tall. Each of the nine demonstrate such talent. It was fantastic to see favourite faces from Christmas past as well as being introduced to new talent.Whilst the tale of Alice in Wonderland is very much in the memorable characters, there are obvious challenges in bringing to the stage the absurdity of Alice’s journey.
Hayley Grindle’s design is a triumph in creating the illusion needed for Alice to shrink and grow. I’m not even sure my children fully understand how this happened. Adding contrast to the checkerboard is the colour injection of the costumes, all with detail emphasising each character. In enabling the transition from reality to wonderland, the design of Alice is completely magical.
The third dimension of the adaptation is the live music. I was delighted to see Lucy Rivers taking the helm after falling hook, line and sinker for Sinners Club. Transitioning effortlessly to family theatre, there were both earworm numbers for children to love alongside memorable ballads to resonate with Alice’s story. The incorporation of a variety of instruments and on-stage performances offers much to the younger audience.After spending a week in Edinburgh taking in children’s theatre, I have been challenged on whether a family focused production could warrant a standing ovation. Rachel O’Riordan leaving the Sherman is bittersweet but in this final act as Artistic Director she demonstrates family theatre is deserving of ovations and five stars. Every element of the creative came together, in performance, music and design.
Alice in Wonderland is at the Sherman Theatre until 29th December 2018. Tickets are available via the website. I intend to enjoy another performance and would recommend, if you get the chance, to get yourself a ticket.
Disclosure: We were invited to the performance for the purpose of this review. All words and opinions contained are my own.