The beautiful Ventnor Botanic Garden – with its exotic plants and winding paths – serves as a perfect backdrop for the colourful, random and perplexing world painted in Lewis Carroll’s classic stories, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ and ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’. Much like Disney’s animated version in 1951, this delightful adaptation by the Isle of Wight College encompasses characters and elements from both books, giving us a rich, well-rounded experience of Alice’s Wonderland.
We are first collected from the courtyard by Alice (played sweetly and gracefully by Reannon Potts), and are led round the garden to meet characters jolly and glum, pedantic and fun… all mad in their own way, of course! The play features an array of iconic scenes, from the eccentric Mad Hatter’s tea party, to the Queen of Heart’s cunning croquet match, to the nonsensical courtroom scene. We encounter familiar, treasured characters such as the scurrying White Rabbit, the teasing Cheshire Cat, and the enigmatic Caterpillar.
After a quaint yet bonkers tea party, trouble brews as the Knave of Hearts (played with a dopey and cheeky charm by Ksawery Zielinski), steals the Queen of Heart’s tarts, and we are subject to the Queen storming in with her entourage of playing cards, barking orders and threats at every turn. As with his sharp-tongued portrayal of Humpty Dumpty at the beginning, Sam Evans-Murray is formidable in this role, playing the Queen with a pompous grandeur and impressive comic flair. Wayward tree branches don’t escape her acidic tongue, and neither do the audience!
Writer Andrew Butcher, having adapted the original stage script from 1915, has done a grand job at keeping the spirit of the scenes, yet making them digestible to suit a ‘walking’ production. He, along with co-directors Lucy Challis and Vanessa Weightman, have tastefully selected areas of the garden to match the aesthetic of the story; the mysterious White Queen lingering under a gnarled tree, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party spread out on a wide bright lawn, and the Cheshire Cat creeping from behind an imposing tree on a slope, all make for particularly picturesque visuals.
There is enough movement and physical mannerisms in the characters to bring about the quirky, animated nature of the story, yet little enough to not distract from the words. While wandering from scene to scene, we receive smatterings of thoughtful interactions and Wonderland references from the characters, such as Alice asking our opinion on what to name specific flowers (‘It can be as stupid a name as you like!’). A welcome surprise is a striking dance number at the end, wrapping up the production on a musical high.
Another treat is the attention to detail in the costumes (made mostly by Kaitlyn Scriver, our beloved Mad Hatter) and make up: the delicate stitching on Alice’s apron, the Elizabethan ruff made of cards on the Queen of Hearts, and the exquisite make up on the Mad Hatter (appearing to be inspired by the Johnny Depp version of the character). Also not forgetting the tantalising display of crockery and cakes on the tea party table!
All in all, this production gives its audience a delicious evening of escapism, jam-packed with the playful dark humour that honours Lewis Carroll, and spirited performances that the students should be proud of. It is like a beautiful blend of Alice’s favourite tea, ‘curiosi-tea’!
Anna Mallard is a professional actress based on the Island, who has performed in diverse roles throughout the UK and Toronto; from Blackgang Chine and the London Dungeon to the Old Vic Theatre. She is currently visiting home as part of a professional touring production of the hilarious farce, Blithe Spirit, by Noel Coward. You can catch her in the role of Ruth Condomine on Sunday 4th July at Newclose County Cricket Ground – an outdoor performance. Tickets are available from Quay Arts Box Office at https://www.quayarts.org/event/blithe_spirit/ , or on 01983 822490