Setting can add so much to a production, and the Watermill at Newbury's assured and inventive production of Alice in Wonderland was even more enjoyable for the Barbary ducks sitting by the mill race and surrounding trees in their late autumnal colour. Whatever the production, the theatre is a pleasure in itself, but how much more so when Robin Belfield and Simon Slater's adaptation offered so much to relish.
Alice (cool and crisp Josie Dunn) tumbles down the rabbit hole to an unpredictable and disturbing world of characters with human characteristics but bizarre behaviours. The Mad Hatter/Cheshire Cat was superbly evoked by Oliver Izod whose manic energy and blue smile was seductive – but not in a good way. Alice wisely kept her distance as she tried to maintain a modicum of rational integrity faced with an afternoon of surprises.
The White Rabbit/Dormouse (delightful Ed Thorpe) zipped from one extreme to another with effortless grace: clutching his pocket watch one moment, the next barely able to keep awake, laying his head touchingly on the Mad Hatter's elegant shoulder. The Caterpillar/March Hare (assured Alex Tomkins) was a favourite of mine, perhaps because the Caterpillar's laconic interaction with Alice was frankly so cool. What was he smoking in that hookah? Polly Highton's Duchess was a tour de force and probably came closest to achieving that gusto of pantomime interaction with the young matine audience. While the cast kept childrens' attention, it was evident that many of the quips and brain teasers of Carroll's erudite creation pleased their parents and grandparents more.
Opportunities for wonderful audience participation was delivered by The Lobster Quadrille, and the Mock Turtle's rendition of 'Beautiful Soup' to Slater's evocative original music.
Clever staging such as Alice's 'Drink Me' moment, and the Cheshire Cat's appearance and disappearance were an added delight. The wonderful costumes, dance and song made the afternoon fly by, the cold crisp air of late November forgotten in this enticing psychedelic world.