Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at Opera Holland Park
“Welcome to Wonderland,” chime a group of ornately dressed Victorians leading us into the leafy glades of Holland Park’s Yucca Lawn. Sitting on plush grass bathed in dappled sunlight, monochrome photographs of the dreary town of Grimthorpe loom over us. It is here that Alice – played with wide-eyed innocence by Fflur Wyn – meets James Cleverton’s mischievous White Rabbit, leading us into Lewis Carroll’s weird and remarkable fantasy land.
In promenade fashion, each scene takes place in a different location in the vast garden, so we must tumble after Alice as she unearths Wonderland’s curious secrets and eccentric characters. From the bleak confines of Grimthorpe, we burst into colourful gardens full of singing flowers and unusual beverages, where talking eggs give lessons in philosophy and smiling cats magically appear in the trees. Next, we zoom to the home of a smoking caterpillar clad in an oriental kimono, and then onto a great slanting table where the Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse take their tea.
Will Todd’s vibrant score, an eclectic mix of operetta, jazz, blues and musical theatre, fills each scene and perfectly complements Maggie Gottlieb’s fun yet sophisticated libretto. Particularly brilliant is the Wonderland Blues, a raspy jazz number sung by Keel Watson’s Caterpillar in fruity bass tones and languorous sustains. The imprisoned tea factory workers’ soulful chorus is mournful yet compelling, mimicking the style of Ol’ Man River; while the Duchess’s (Patricia Orr) imaginatively alliterative solo, brimming with onomatopoeic consonants is a joy to watch.
Leslie Travers’ costumes are vibrant and creative, merging the book’s original Victorian setting with unabashed fantasy. Each eccentric character is brilliantly realised: Magid El-Bushra dazzles in electric blue as the Cheshire cat with a sinewy vibrato and hypnotising grin, John Lofthouse brings both the bumbling White Knight and the crazed March Hare to life, his Hare being particularly original with a moping Brummie twang, and Robert Burt is pure caricature as the Red Queen lending her a fierce but delightful theatricality. All this (along with the 11-piece orchestra of glorious strings knit together with more unusual sounds from the accordion, saxophone and flute) laces Carroll’s wonderfully weird tale with a magical beauty.
Aimed at a younger audience, yet retaining an air of sophisticated elegance and operatic integrity, Alice is a brilliant, vivacious affair of glorious costumes, charming theatrics, impressive singing and impassioned storytelling.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is at Opera Holland Park until 2nd August 2014. For further information or to book visit Opera Holland Park’s website here.