It’s 50 years since the Saddleworth Players moved into Millgate Arts Centre, and to mark the occasion director Carol Davies has assembled a cast of 23. Some are veterans of the very first productions at Millgate, and others are drawn from the SPY group of young actors. All of them act their socks off in this production of Alice, by Laura Wade.
This is not Alice in Wonderland as you may remember it from childhood. True, there are nursery rhyme characters like Humpty Dumpty and the Queen of Hearts, but Alice Little is a very modern Sheffield 12-year-old suffering the death of her adored older brother Joe.
The play starts at his funeral wake, and morphs into the disorientating, frightening and imaginary Wonderland.
The set design of black and white geometric patterns, vortices and hidden doors is suitably unsettling.
Alice must find her way “right to the heart” through dreamlike transformations, challenges and sheer craziness in order to come to terms with her loss.
Kira Richardson is outstanding as Alice, in turns numb, bewildered, feisty and kind. There’s a lot of humour in her performance, too. Her bereaved parents (Verity Mann and Mark Rosenthal) give emotionally powerful performances. Later on they show their considerable comic abilities as the King and Queen of Hearts. Emma Hulmes successfully plays for laughs as the Duchess and Mock Turtle.
The veteran performers give their all. Particularly enjoyable is Ian Perks as the Brummie Caterpillar/Wonderland Border Official (some political satire here!) Andrew Wilson is a comic Humpty Dumpty and old-style schoolteacher, and John Tanner makes for a delightfully crazy Mad Hatter. Jon Comyn-Platt as the sleepy Dormouse obsessed with jam is, dare I say it, rather cute!
It’s such a strong ensemble that it’s hard to pick out other performers, but here goes. The audience loved Joe Doughty’s Cheshire Cat, wheedling Alice into giving him tummy rubs. Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Amelia Popplewell and Issy Parks) were lively and engaging, with a touch of pathos.
William Wood as Joe and the White Rabbit was a kind guide and mentor to Alice.
One of the funniest scenes was the Lobster Quadrille, with original music by Ian Ball, who also performed as an enthusiastic Minstrel.
The costumes, designed and made by Verity Mann, Sue Lund and their team, were spectacular, especially the Queen of Hearts.
The props were ingenious, particularly the umbrellas that represented the fearsome Jabberwock.
Good use was also made of the projection screens.
The capacity audience was rightly enthusiastic. Particularly if you know Lewis Carroll’s original stories, this is a night to remember.
Alice by Laura Wade runs 18th-25th November . Tickets ( £12 /£6 for concessions) available from Box Office below