This new family-friendly version of Lewis Carroll's masterpiece invites you to fall down the rabbit hole again
How to make Alice in Wonderland feel fresh and relevant in 2018? Multi-award winning playwright Mary Anne Butler has found the winning formula: cast the first ever Indigenous Alice (Dubs Yunupingu) and use Indigenous words and slang that you would hear in any playground. Then make her a 13 year old AFL-loving misfit who was chased off the footy team by boys saying a girl can’t hack the sport. Put her in a version of that iconic blue and white outfit, but make it clear that she can’t stand it. Use her trip to Wonderland to help Alice discover that her voice matters as much as that of any boy.
In this family-friendly production, directed by Cristabel Sved, the action takes place on a playground, all bright colours and bold motifs designed by Melanie Liertz. It’s by going down the giant slide in pursuit of her blue hair ribbon that Alice ends up in Wonderland.
The ribbon thief is the White Rabbit, who we first meet as a plush toy brought to gentle life by Alex Packard and Drew Wilson (later Packard dons a rabbit head to play the part) – he too is afraid to be his true self, and by collecting and wearing pieces of Alice’s unwanted finery, he begins to blossom.
As Alice grows and shrinks (represented with a small Alice doll-puppet and giant stockinged legs), she encounters a mansplaining Mad Hatter (Packard), a chilled-out Caterpillar (Ebony Vagulans), and a creepy, disjointed Cheshire Cat (some neon cat face components, light-up claw gloves, and Vagulans). Each of them assist Alice on her journey of self-discovery in their own ways – and when she comes face to face with the Queen of Hearts (Wilson), it’s time to test what Alice has learned about the value of her own voice.
Sved builds Alice’s journey into one that younger audience members can join in on. Yunupingu frequently stops to address them directly – to ask if they’ve ever been afraid, or felt out of place, or not listened to – and the children watching answer back.
There are plenty of moments of magic and discovery (children were excitedly pointing out hidden features and props onstage during the first Saturday matinee), and the story has a warm-hearted momentum, always checking in on Alice’s feelings – the heart of the plot – before moving on to another adventure.
This is a playful hour in the theatre – sheets turn into oceans, shapes on sticks into floating butterflies – and while the littlest audience members seemed to flag towards the end, their slightly (and much-older) counterparts stay with the narrative and its generous, compassionate approach to this old classic.