This was my first show of the Christmas season and what a wunderbar start, with an Alice-like antidote to festive fare administered before the over-indulgence has taken place. From the way we enter the space, through a deck chair gate, onto a tray of gravel complete with squeaky toys and I think a large dog poo and welcomed by an uber-friendly member of the cast, it is clear our sense of what is real will be under assault.
The format is a BBC radio studio where four artists at varying stages in their careers (or non careers) have been assembled to record Alice in Wonderland. The director loses control as he is slowly driven from massaging the egos of his players to get them to stay with the plot (literally and figuratively) to joining in the zany craziness as they end up with a Cold War version of the Lewis Carroll story, Alix in Wundergarten, complete with over the top “German” accents.
Along the way we play with all manner of witty characterisations. The studio and players are dominated by the famous but declining, name-dropping, West End musicals actor Nick, gloriously played by Richard Elfyn. The victims of much of his inappropriate comments are the young RADA trained actor Toby and the wide-eyed innocent actress Elin-Rose, played by Arthur Hughes and Louise Marie Lorey. The Alice cast is completed by the middling actor Gael, Dean Rehman, whose pretentious name is mispronounced by Fabian, that on-the-verge radio producer, played by the show’s writer François Pandolfo.
It would ruin this jolly 90 minute romp that ranges from laugh-out loud-humour, chuckle-inducing frivolity, toe-curling awkwardness and sections where you are just left with eye brows raised waiting for what will come next. We become part of the “play” not only as being that studio audience but clambered over, handed plates of biscuits and Nick’s mobile phone. But go along to find out why.
The writer is not afraid of melding conventional situational humour with some utter bizarreness. The basic story is based on those characters’ foibles and situations spiralling out of control despite every attempt to pull back from the brink. Into this we have cringe-making awkwardness between those characters, quirky interaction with what is supposed to be a studio audience watching the recording and an utterly bizarre sexual meltdown. Again, to not spoil the fun I won’t say much more.
Directed by Angharad Lee, this is a zany and very different work, at times plain baffling and head-spinning, intelligently comic with dark undertones occasionally as surreal as the original tale. Did I mention the Santa?
Until December 19
Read François Pandolfo on writing Alix: