Alice In Wonderland celebrates its 150th birthday this year, and the tale of rabbit holes, magic cakes and secret doors has charmed children and adults across the world, sparking a string of adaptations. The latest one comes from Escapade Theatre Company, who have injected some Steampunk-infused spice and musical madness into Lewis Carroll’s Victorian classic. The result is entertaining, enchanting and altogether brilliant.
Teatre Gaudí was a fantastic choice of venue, and an immersive atmosphere was achieved from the moment the audience entered the auditorium. Danny Elfman’s haunting soundtrack from the 2010 feature film rang out, lightbulbs were strung above the stage, and sprawled across its perimeter were wooden crates, slabs of steel and a trolley bearing a lifeless baby doll. There was no doubt about it—we had been lured into Alice’s whimsical world of fantasy. While in-the-round theatres can often run the risk of issues with sightlines, projection and static performances, director Sue Flack’s bold decision to stage her production in this way was a masterstroke. The intimate space allowed us to be transported into Alice’s dark world of dreams, while Flack’s deft direction ensured that there was constant movement throughout and that all angles were covered. Regular use of the four aisles kept the audience engaged, providing room for subtle set changes as well as slick entrances and exits, and ultimately drove the momentum of the piece. Another huge advantage of sitting so close to the action was being able to marvel at the production’s phenomenal aesthetic value. From the barrister wigs made of paper scrolls to the specially-drafted Wonderland Gazette, huge credit must go to Infestum Espectacles for their lavish costume design, imaginative prop-making and overall attention to detail.
Despite some being slightly caricatured versions of their originals, the care taken in crafting the story’s aesthetics was clearly also applied to the characters themselves. The slutty and seductive interpretation of the Cheshire Cat (Danni Cullen) offered a refreshing take over its suave stereotype, while the Caterpillar (Mark Aspinall), who wore John Lennon tinted glasses and spoke with a Scouse accent, alluded nicely to the influence of Carroll’s work on The Beatles’ songwriting. Unfortunately, time sometimes suffered a sad fate as pace occasionally lagged during the show, particularly during the Tea Party scene, which is arguably the most iconic. Other scenes also felt overly long and could have been shortened, such as the Mouse’s Tale and the exchange between the Gryphon and Mock Turtle.
There wasn’t a single weak link among the cast, with strong performances coming from most of the acting ensemble, particularly in their physicality as they convincingly changed characters from one scene to the next. Jamie Lerner was an inquisitive and endearing Alice, while Annie O’Callaghan was suitably stroppy as the tyrannic Queen of Hearts. However, the standout performance of the night came from Ben Sbuttoni, who simply commanded the stage as the White Rabbit with his bursts of energy and magnetic stage presence. The cast were excellent vocally, producing some gorgeous harmonies, and a special mention must go to Daniel Ewing (Mad Hatter/Mock Turtle), whose touching rendition of ‘Beautiful Soup’ allowed for a moment of reflection amidst the Wonderland chaos. While the choreography wasn’t hugely inventive, the simple yet stylised sequences during the earlier scenes worked well in retaining a creepy element to the production.
Overall, Escapade Theatre Company’s Alice In Wonderland is an undisputed success, and all involved are an absolute credit to Flack’s vision. This is the best show I have seen in Barcelona, and it is hardly surprising that Escapade have cemented their name as one of the city’s leading English theatre companies. From strobes and UV lighting to uplifting routines featuring backflips, hoedowns and tap dancing, this production is punchy, wacky and wonderful. With its run now extended until June 5th, I may just have to pop back and watch Alice’s magical adventures unfold all over again.