There cannot be many more unusual books than ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland’, still entertaining new generations of readers over a hundred and fifty years after its original publication. Perhaps, indeed, it is the sheer eccentricity of the story, the quirkiness of the characters and the bizarre nature of Alice’s experiences that have given the book such a successful and enduring life. Adapting it to work on stage is both a challenge and a wonderful opportunity: how do you distil so many unforgettable characters and memorable moments into a piece that still works as a cohesive story rather than as a number of set-pieces? Really, by remembering that it is first and foremost a children’s story seen through Alice’s eyes: her journey should be the audience’s journey, her experiences the audience’s experiences. In this fantastic version by Kate Belcher, there is not one but eight ‘Alices’, each one just a little bit changed by her time in Wonderland. It is a musical full of fun, full of laughs, full of great songs, and fully respectful of the novel from which it is adapted.
Alice’s Mum and Dad are arguing about having to take Alice along to a dinner party and blaming each other for not booking a babysitter so that she could be left behind. Alice feels she is too old to need a babysitter, but her parents insist she goes with them and they all leave the house, with tensions running high, to attend the event (DINNER PARTY).
Finding the adult world boring, Alice escapes the dinner party only to bump into The White Rabbit, who appears to be late for a meeting with the Queen. Alice is intrigued by this strange character and, eager to learn more about what he is up to, she follows The White Rabbit. In doing so, she trips and falls down a hole (FALLING).
Now in Wonderland, Alice meets The White Rabbit again and he tries to explain why he is running and why he is so anxious about being late for the Queen (OH, MY EARS AND WHISKERS!).
Alice finds herself in a corridor of doors. Behind the smallest door lies a beautiful garden which Alice is desperate to visit. However, she is too tall to fit through. Advised by a Table and a Key, Alice drinks from a bottle which allows her to shrink. The key to the small door is left on top of the table which Alice cannot now reach. She eats a cake which makes her grow so that she can reach the key, but now she is too tall to get through the door again. She cries copious tears which create a huge pool. Having cooled herself with The White Rabbit’s fan, she shrinks for a second time.
Various animals come swimming through the pool of tears and encourage Alice to take part in a Caucus Race which has no real rules (THE CAUCUS RACE). As there is no clear winner at the end of the race, all of the animals demand a prize from Alice. Having received their prizes, they leave her alone (ALL ALONE IN WONDERLAND).
Alice wanders further into Wonderland and meets a Caterpillar whose mushroom, when eaten, enables her to grow again. She enters a peculiar house full of more bizarre characters, one of whom, the Head Cook, is brewing up a soup full of pepper (PEPPER FOR THE SOUP) to feed to the Duchess who is carrying a crying baby. Alice is given the baby to hold and it promptly turns into a pig. Alice returns the pig-baby and leaves the house.
Alice bumps into the Cheshire Cat, who has the enviable talent of disappearing and reappearing at will, and he questions Alice about where she might want to go in Wonderland. Alice, who is rather bemused by the whole situation, decides to follow the sound of voices and comes upon the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (THE MAD HATTER’S PARTY).
At the tea party, Alice is confused still further with riddles and rhymes and strange stories, but she is never offered a cup of tea or even a chair to sit on. She becomes increasingly frustrated at her treatment as more people start telling her what to do and who to be, and so she leaves the party, remembering that she still has some of the Caterpillar’s mushroom in her pocket. On eating this, Alice shrinks once more and finds herself in the Queen’s garden.
The Playing Cards are at work in the garden, painting the Queen’s rose bushes as they have the wrong colour flowers growing on them which will anger the Queen. The Queen arrives and Alice realises why everyone fears her – she has a raging temper. The Queen wants everyone to join in her game of croquet, even Alice who has never played the game before (CROQUET!).
The Queen seems to take a liking to Alice and invites her to meet the Mock Turtle who, she assures Alice, has an interesting story to tell. The Mock Turtle’s story is yet another strange and wonderful tale, culminating in an explanation of the dance that everyone in Wonderland enjoys (THE LOBSTER QUADRILLE).
A sudden commotion signals that a trial is about to take place. The Knave of Hearts has been accused of stealing the Queen’s jam tarts and he is to be tried. The trial is topsy-turvy, with the King trying to hand out the verdict before the witnesses have spoken. Even with the witnesses’ statements, nothing seems to make any sense to Alice and her anger and confusion spill out, causing all of the Wonderland characters to disappear. Alice is once again alone (AM I STILL IN WONDERLAND?).
Just like that, Alice is back home with her Mum and Dad whom she realises have been genuinely worried about her disappearance. Alice reflects on her strange journey through Wonderland and understands that she should try and encourage her parents to add a little more imagination into their lives, and to see the world as a place full of colour and life (WON’T YOU JOIN THE DANCE?).