IN Sheffield University Theatre Company’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic books, Malaika Cunningham follows the structure of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but adds some characters, dialogue and poems from Through the Looking Glass and some lines of her own. The result is an exhilarating and faithful reflection of Carroll’s surrealist imagination.
Some inspired background animation is used to startling effect and helps to make the production as striking as Laura Wade’s 2010 version at the Crucible. Lighting and sound create an all-encompassing, dreamlike atmosphere; the costumes echo John Tenniel’s original illustrations; and the manipulation of a movable door is nicely done.
Emily Keston as Alice is convincingly childlike: bold, petulant, and inquisitive. The cast of 25 are alert to Carroll’s delight in word-play, absurdity and vivid characterisation. These include a quirky Mad Hatter (Daniel Turner), a twitchy March Hare (Ollie Raggett), an appealing Dormouse (Alice Lord), a nervy White Rabbit (Nathan Buckley), a sinuous Cheshire Cat (Loma Sylvana), a silky Caterpillar (Sarah Sharp), an energetic Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Jonathan England and Nick O’Quinn), a patronising Duchess (Grace Darbyshire), a mincing Mouse (Alice Ordish), a furious Cook (Mel Harrison), an imperious Queen (Liz Johnson), a bluff King (Richard Veazey), and a curious and comic assortment of cards, birds and flowers. The play explores issues of growth, identity, power, unpredictability, and the sheer strangeness of human experience - doors opening and closing on the subconscious. The poems, inventively performed, reveal further glimpses of a psychic wonderland. Malaika Cunningham directs with vigour, delicacy and wit.