SUZANNE BURLTON: ‘this was like seeing a school play – but a good one.’

Wednesday 19th to Saturday 22nd May, 7.30pm with 11am and 2.30pm matinées on Saturdays at the ADC, £9-£6.

Directed by Helen Garner.

I hate children. Just let me put that out there. Child actors are, as a general rule, awful. So maybe sending me to see a show performed entirely by children aged eight to nineteen was a bad idea. However, I also love musical theatre and Alice in Wonderland promises lots of bright colours and jolly songs and dances.

The conclusion to which I eventually arrived was that this was like seeing a school play – but a good one. Lots of crowd scenes, one or two actors who really stand out and an overambitious director who wishes they were doing professional theatre and can’t bear to scale down their directorial vision. This was the problem.

Children in theatre are limiting. You cannot make them wiggle their hips sexily (like the flowers) or speak up properly (like most of the unmiked cast). They are children, not small adults. The ones who were given age-appropriate things to do, like the darling mini-Alice, were fine.

A special mention goes to the rather excellent Mad Hatter, March Hare and White Rabbit who were all confident and amusing. In fact, their tea party scene was disappointingly short, given how some of the other numbers dragged. Few, however, were truly weak.

Speaking of hearing, the sound was all wrong, as it so often is at the ADC. The music was too loud, the children too quiet and the microphones squeaked. Furthermore, the lighting cues were very slow and the set was, to be frank, disappointing given that they had constructed a real onstage waterfall in a previous production.

It is the first night, though, so let’s be kind and talk about the lovely transformation scenes – three actresses played Alice, all of different sizes, and switching from one to another was done very well with coloured lights and swirling so the switch was hardly noticeable and seemed rather magical. In fact, the choreography as a whole was delightful.

The three lycra-clad tweens playing the cat grew on me a little throughout the production but it must be said that few in this production really went for it in terms of physicality, though their voices were overall pretty good. I wasn’t a fan of the caterpillar, however, as its vague attempt at originality seemed to jar with the generally Disney-ish characterisation. 

For someone who hates children and frequently rants about their theatrical incompetence, I was pleasantly surprised. The older ones were good and the little ones adorable. They didn’t fall prey to any of the usual traps of whininess or shyness. I just think the director tried to do a bit too much with them and should have let their natural youthful exuberance shine through rather than trying to make adults of little ones. And even if I did still hate the children a bit, it’s only an hour long.