Simon Michael Morgan, Tanya Wylie, Jessamy James and Arianna Gasperini blooming in the Plantation Garden – all photos © Julian Swainson 2023
I have been to a number of shows over the years by the Strange Fascination Theatre company. They specialise in family open air shows in the summer months in pleasant settings dotted around Norfolk and Suffolk. In 2017 they took on Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (see our review here: https://norwicheye.co.uk/whats-on/norwich-eye-review-alice-in-wonderland-by-strange-fascination-theatre/) and for 2023 they have tackled the sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass.
As before Simon Michael Morgan directs and stars as many of the outlandish characters that Alice encounters in the strange world through the looking glass. Alice is performed by the charming Jessamy James who gives an energetic performance despite being on ‘stage’ for almost the entire show. The two slightly bonkers ‘basics’ who we meet before the show starts as they wander through the audience talking their own unique language take on many other roles, including the Red and White Queens and Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They are performed with endless charm and energy by Arianna Gasperini and Tanya Wylie.
Productions by Strange Fascination Theatre always feature many magical props, puppets and costumes made by Daisy Plackett. Some of the costumes, puppets and props become stars of this show in their own right, like the flowers we see early on, Humpty Dumpty on his wall, the JubJub bird and the impossibly chaotic White Knight with more gadgets on his back than blades on a Swiss Army knife.
The location for this show today was in Norwich’s magical Plantation Garden, a marvellous bit of Victorian whimsy occupying a former lime burning and flint digging industrial site. In 1855 Henry Trevor converted the site from industrial to residential use and put a lot of effort into creating a remarkable garden. The garden features many hidden walkways and staircases and an impressive set of steps and walls at the end which seem to be made from all kinds of bits of other buildings, but were in fact almost all specialist bricks from the Costessey brickworks and bits of clinker from old ovens which have often been used in Norwich to create distinctive walls.
This whimsical setting gives a natural arena where the hard background helps the sound to carry clearly on a windy day, with lots of birds roosting and even a deer pottering through the garden in the second half.
The show is not too long, an important consideration if you are bringing lively children, but covers the adventures Alice has in the original book fairly thoroughly. In a world where children are bombarded with technology and slick tv and film work it is nice to be able to take them to a show with real people who interact with what is around them, and with their audience. I would hope that some of the audience would want to go home and dig out a dusty old copy of the Alice books and read them for themselves after seeing the show.
Whimsical is the word that sums up the show as well as the setting, with the company giving us 90 minutes of magic to take us away from our everyday woes and worries into a land that is both oddly familiar and yet famously odd. Nursery rhymes come to life in a game that sometimes follows the rules of chess – if the pieces came alive!
The shows continue at various locations throughout August, find out more on their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/strangefascinationtheatre/about_details – Catch this show when it comes your way, you will love it.
© Julian Swainson, Norwich Eye, 13 August 2023