Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland is a favourite of many children (of all ages); a fairy tale intertwined with clever punning and themes of identity, curiosity, time, and the perils of growing up. Many well-known lines from Alice have almost become part of everyday speech or jokes: “off with his head,” “I’m late,” “curiouser and curiouser.” Even if it is increasingly difficult to separate out which are from the original book, or are references to the Disney (1951) or Tim Burton (2010) films.
The original story is ‘through the looking glass’… an inverted world-view from the perspective of the dreaming child. Wondered is what might be described as the Grimm version of this well-known and loved tale, retold as the dreams of the very mad “Hatter” (Reagan Warner).Following early performances dating back to 2015, the 50-minute show has returned to the Brisbane stage as part of the 2019 Anywhere Festival. The table is set, and Hatter wakes his guests for the start of his tea party. “The Tweedles” have already arrived, and are eating their way through the sweets (Dee [Gary Farmer-Trickett] and Dum [Trent Sellars]). Ches (Lindi Milbourne) is elegant in her furs, and catching up with her knitting—gradually unravelling a very large red ball of wool. And Hatter is anxiously waiting for Alice (Elodie Boal) to join them.
As you would expect, with an award-winning play that was first seen four years ago, and has been performed on a number of occasions by an almost identical cast, the 2019 production of Wondered is polished and tight. Warner gives a strong central performance, creating a highly-believable, mad—and occasionally manic—Hatter. Farmer-Trickett and Sellars are a great double act (although occasionally reminded me a little too much of the film-versions of Malfoy's henchmen, Crabbe and Goyle), and Milbourne’s Ches purrs (that is, is exactly as we would hope the Cheshire Cat could be re-dreamt). Alice may have grown up a little since she last met Hatter and the residents of Wonderland, but Boal's Alice (and yes, Boal is the writer, director and Alice) is the perfect combination of wide-eyed wonder with a fast progress to realising that going to sleep may be final.
There’s much to love about this production, but perhaps the space might have been more 'Anywhere'. The Sideshow is a great space, with the bonus of a bar which serves coffee and some food (albeit occasionally a little warm, and with the noise of the fans and some cars rumbling by). But it is all too easy to succumb to setting it up as a traditional theatre. In the spirit of Anywhere Festival, it would have been great to see Wondered in a venue that enhanced the experience: tea rooms? an outside space for a picnic? a sleep study centre? Bedlam (perhaps created within Boggo Road Goal)?
However, the punning and wordplay are great (‘special-tea,’ ‘par-tea’, ‘rom-puss’), the cross-references to the original play are beautifully done (even down to the fatal ‘eat me’ cupcakes), the cast relish their roles…and I will try not to ‘let the cat out of the bag’ by including spoilers about how Wondered ends. If you’ve ever wondered, you’d need to get along to The Sideshow by 17 May 2019.
Verdict: Don’t wonder… if you have the time…. get along to The Sideshow and see how Wonderland might be re-imagined.
Audience tip: 50 mins. Adult themes (death/simulated killing) and limited smoke haze. Aim for the front two rows if you can, and be ready to be warm. Wondered has two shows per evening (6 pm and 8 pm) on Friday 10 May, Sunday 12 May and Friday 17 May. Tickets are available at https://anywhere.is/listings/wondered/ ($20).
The reviewer attended the Friday 10 May 2019 performance (6:00pm), at The Sideshow, 349 Montague Road, West End, Brisbane.
Pictures Credit: Creative Futures Photography.