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Haymarket - Alice the Musical

6th December 2002 to 4th January 2003.

This was the Newbury Weekly News review.

Curiouser and curiouser

'ALICE - A MUSICAL', at the Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke, from December 6 to January 4

Adapting novels for film, as in the case of 'The Lord of the Rings' and the 'Harry Potter' movies, enables well-loved characters to spring from the pages of a book to emerge larger-than-life on the big screen, aided by impressive special effects to preserve the magic of the original. Theatrical presentations prove more of a challenge and this new version of Alice's adventures directed by Alasdair Ramsay, although a pleasant alternative to pantomime, falls rather short.

Oxford mathematics don Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll, created his masterpiece 140 years ago as a result of tales told to Alice Liddell and her two sisters. Kate Dove's adaptation, which remains largely faithful to Carroll's text, neatly places the story in context at the start of the show before imaginative lighting depicts Alice's descent into Wonderland in pursuit of the White Rabbit.

A cast of eight, augmented by members of the Haymarket Youth Theatre, inevitably meant that most of the actors played several roles.

Claire Carpenter's Queen of Hearts made a strong impression while the pantomime tradition was kept alive by Jonathan Kemp's Duchess in drag. James Hornsby showed his versatility in portraying a pipe-smoking Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter and a melancholy Mock Turtle. Melanie Revill worked hard in the tide role but, in a departure from John Tenniel's famous illustrations, the decision to present her as the real Alice with short dark hair as opposed to the girl with long blond locks was somewhat disconcerting.

Likewise, the wire-framed head-dresses, while allowing us to see the actors' faces, in the style of 'The Lion King', tended to detract from the overall illusion. Elroy Ashmore's design concept scores best in the colourful garden scene, more surreal than a Dali painting, as Alice encountered croquet-playing cards using pink flamingos as mallets and hedgehogs for balls.

The original music by Jon Nicholls set some of the verses written by Carroll alongside new songs. Having praised the Haymarket last year for using actor-musicians to provide live music, there was a disappointing reliance here on recorded music; an Alice band would have been a welcome addition.

Lewis Carroll's quirky narrative is clearly capable of enchanting both adults and children but the Haymarket's curious interpretation was less effective in stirring the imagination than the children's classic on which it was based.