Royal & Derngate (Underground) Guildhall Road NN1 1DP To 8 January 2012.
Runs 1hr No interval.

TICKETS: 01604 624811.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 28 December.

A piece with little purpose.
Not a lot of people notice this, but inside the main entrance to Northampton’s Royal and Derngate there’s a little door, which looks as if it might lead to a broom-cupboard. Yet through here, this Christmas as last, small audiences – in both number and age of their child members – disappear to experience a short piece based on the Royal’s Christmas production. Last year, Through the Wardrobe magically took the very young into an icy Narnia to meet characters and landscapes from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

This year the descent of steps fits the Alice in Wonderland-based Down the Rabbit Hole. But as Phil Porter’s riotous adaptation proceeds upstairs, the magic has departed from this too tame hour.

Despite the three designers credited, it all happens within a confined, blue-curtained area. Hints of more varied vistas turn out mere sightings of storage space. Music occasionally plays faintly, but makes no impact – it was only when identifying the (very old) song “Everything Stops for Tea” it was evident the sounds weren’t leaking from one of the other shows on around the place.

Too soft to make an impact, unlikely to be familiar to an audience in their early years, there seemed no point to the music. And despite valiant work from Lucy Ellison’s pleasantly smiling, alice-blue clad Alice, plus Michael Imerson fitting his voice to an array of characters, there’s very little happening.

A couple of songs from Imerson, who also tries to accommodate audience comments, helped by Ellinson, a fake baking routine that’s surprising but hardly attention-grabbing in its outcome, and a croquet-match are among the more interesting moments.

But these individual sections have no coherence, with little sense of the atmosphere of Lewis Carroll’s story, making the hour little more than a themed play-session. About the only moment to go imaginatively beyond this is a tea-party with cups taken from an upside-down table on the ceiling. There’s some reference here to at least half of Porter’s ‘silly/stupid’ there. But that means nothing to those not seeing the ‘older’ version.

Overall, a dispiriting experience, especially after last year’s success.

Alice: Lucy Ellinson.
Mad Hatter/White Rabbit/Duchess/Cook/Caterpillar/Queen of Hearts/Dormouse: Michael Imerson.

Director: Beth Van Der Ham-Edwards.
Designers: Sara Perks, Eleanor Davies, Laura Hollowell.

2012-01-04 01:41:59

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