Alice leads the Wonderland crew with a magic watch – photos  ©The Eye Snapper
You wait ages for an Alice, then two come along in one week. That’s Norwich for you. 
The first was the open air rendition of the traditional tale by Strange Fascination Theatre which we reviewed here http://norwicheye.co.uk/whats-on/norwich-eye-review-alice-in-wonderland-by-strange-fascination-theatre/. This jaunty little production put me in a very receptive mood for the much bigger enterprise gracing the Theatre Royal stage this week.
Norwich Theatre Royal has a long and proud tradition of supporting young people into the theatrical life through the Youth Company now enjoying the new Stage Two facility adjacent to the main theatre. A part of Peter Wilson’s legacy to the city from his quarter century as Theatre Chief was to campaign endlessly for this facility and the funding to fully support it. Theatre audiences often appear to be predominantly drawn from the older demographic, but shows like Alice not only fill the stage with young people but also fill an auditorium with family groups and a wide age spectrum. If theatre is to survive this engagement is vital.
And what a show! This production gave the young stars a chance to show their skills as dancers, singers, musicians and character actors. Lewis Carroll gave us a gorgeous group of characters to enjoy, and also some illuminative fun along the way with the niches and nuances of the English language. The main characters were all represented in this sequel show with all their foibles and fancies.

Alice is wary of the reappearance of the White Rabbit!

At the heart of this tale is young Alice – ten years on from the original Wonderland adventure Alice is a young woman determined to make her way in life whatever the obstacles, and possessing a driving confidence in the powers of logic and mathematics. Alice is brought to us with confidence and panache by Matilda Bailes, faultless and self assured in her first night performance. Seldom off stage in this two and a half hour show she has delicacy and grace in her depiction of Alice and an engaging and accomplished singing style.

The premise of this tale, written and directed by David Lambert, is that the events start with the sadness of Alice attending her mother’s funeral, along with an apparently uncaring assembly of family members and others. Upset and aloof from this parade of propriety Alice suddenly finds herself in the company of the White Rabbit played by Sam Ings. Soon she is back with the Mad Hatter (Ali Hunt), Caterpillar (Kieran Crawford), March Hare (Isaac Wright), sleepy Dormouse (Heather Kelly) and a rather sneaky Cheshire Cat (Octavia Sharman).
They soon encounter the gloriously bonkers Queen of Hearts (Cherie Hendry) yelling ‘off with their heads’ at all and sundry and her King (Matthew Doswell) and Knave (Charlie O’Brien). However in this Wonderland the new supreme baddie is the Red Queen, a role greatly enjoyed by Lauren Bryant. Two more noteworthy characters who grace the stage are the Duchess (Dora Le Borgne) and her marvellously loopy cook (Eleanor Jenkins).
This group of key characters are joined by comedy duo Callum Adkins and Jamie Cleminson as Tweedledum and Tweedledee, hapless guards to the Red Queen and her regime of terror. There are legions of young chess pieces and playing cards, all wondering what the future is for Wonderland. Will the Red Queen prevail, or will a sort of order be restored under the Queen of Hearts? Will Alice come to the rescue?  And, most touchingly, will her trip to Wonderland allow Alice to go back in time to a happier place? All will be revealed.
With a cast of hundreds the stage is packed, so some of the scope for choreography is limited but the young cast all carry out their moves with enthusiasm and concentration. The music, led by Charlie Caine on piano, is fresh and lively and allows the leads to show off their skills, particularly the Mad Hatter and Alice. I can see Ali Hunt who plays the Hatter tackling the Gilbert and Sullivan ‘patter’ songs in the future.
You may set out to see this Alice as a youth theatre in development, but what you will enjoy is a polished performance with great pace and timing and a very accomplished cast of performers. 
© Julian Swainson 2017

Listing:
Alice Back In Wonderland, Wednesday 26-Saturday 29 July, at 7pm, and Saturday matinee at 2pm. Tickets £7-£12. Discounts for Friends, Over-60s and Under-18s. Captioned performance on Saturday 29 July at 2pm.

To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.