Alice in Wonderland is one of the most fantastical and imaginative books ever written. Set in a magical world of talking animals, mad milliners and smoking caterpillars, the novel was written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll.
A story that captures the hearts of not only children but adults alike it has been released in many genres from books and plays to films. With many different takes on the original story it was inevitable that it would eventually be translated into a panto for the holiday season.
And this is just what the Cheerios and Cork Opera House did this year. Panto’s have become a part of the Christmas tradition in most families and with the help of a great cast and crew the Opera House again attempted to stoke the imagination of those patrons that love a great show (Oh yes they did!)
An amazing set with a chessboard inspired stage floor, glittering heart shaped chairs hanging from the sides, a watch placed on the left top corner reminding the ever late rabbit of his very important date and of course the obligatory red roses immediately transported the audience down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. The use of a projected image of alice falling down the rabbit hole and her indecisive size throughout the story was effective and new for the panto genre. It allowed the audience to fully immerse themselves into the story in a way that only visual aids can.
The director Bryan Flynn took a rather Tim Burton-esque view of the original story with costumes inspired by the 2010 film. At times the hatter played by Michael Joseph also seemed to draw from the character played by Johnny Depp in the modern twist of the film in both gestures and tone. Of course the panto was more like a musical than a play with modern songs thrown into the mix. Most of the songs were led by Michael Joseph who made it to the semi final of RTE’s Fame the Musical. However his powerful voice and the voices of the other characters were often drowned out by the musical accompaniment.
Alice was played by Claire O’ Leary who took the role of panto very seriously including the boys and girls in every scene. While traditionally a panto relies on the audience for the obligatory “He’s behind you” or boos and hisses, this took away from the magic of the original story. Frank Mackey was excellent as Aunt Delilah providing the usual localised jokes associated with this type of stage act. The Red Queen (Valerie O’Leary) and the Knave of Hearts (Michael Grennell) were very convincing bad guys deserving of the boos showered on them . The White Rabbit (Declan Wolfe) played a smaller role than anticipated but added a mischievous slant to the loveable character.
The White Queen played by Gemma Sugrue was a character that was often unnecessary in the scenes in which she appeared and gave a cheesiness to the show that was sometimes a bit too much. The songs chosen frequently felt out of place and gave the impression that they were trying to hard to appear modern. However the dance routines were excellent and every costume was flawless and wonderfully magical.
A few flaws here and there does not take away from a wonderful production. Alice in Wonderland was a hard challenge to drag into the panto genre but the Cheerios and Cork Opera House team were quite successful in the task.
The panto season may be coming to an end but there is still time to fall down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass to Wonderland.