ALLY IN WONDERLAND at Lesnes Abbey
Everything about Ruined Theatre’s Ally In Wonderland is not only entertaining but also really clever because it works on so many levels.
First and foremost, writer Frank Saunders’ take on Lewis Carroll’s immortal vision delights young and old alike by paying due homage to his iconic array of characters such as the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Cheshire Cat, The Mad Hatter, Humpty Dumpty and the Jabberwocky.
But at the same time Saunders makes our heroine a typical contemporary teenager, arguing with her mum, slagging off school, losing herself in music – hiphop, of course – worrying about the environment, refusing to grow up. Every parent who sees the show will understand.
And in director Nancy Sullivan’s production, beautifully set amid the evocative 12th century ruins of Lesnes Abbey, those 21st century tropes are reflected, looking-glass-style, when she drifts off into Wonderland and meets fast-talking streetwise versions of the fabulous creations of Carroll’s original.
I particularly love the way Tweedledum and Tweedledee are portrayed as wonderfully inept breakdancers. And the scene in which poor old Humpty comes a cropper because of the stupidity of municipal jobsworths is priceless.
So it’s all tremendous fun. But thanks to the neat device of having the Jabberwocky represent the forces of stasis it also has a serious message about the importance of change and the need to develop into a fully-rounded adult while retaining a sense of the absurd. In fact, what you have is a journey of self-discovery that succeeds in being simultaneously emotional and enchanting.
None of this would work, of course, without a cast and this one is terrific as the actors shapeshift between the characters - Assiba Kouakou as determined Ally, Anneka Gouldbourne as her flustered mum and the blood-crazed Queen, Edward Kaye as the Mad Hatter and the flickering, philosophising Cheshire Cat, Dan Reilly as the March Hare, Humpty and Tweedledee and Meredith Lewis as Tweedledum, a drunken Dormouse and the voice of the White Rabbit.
As if all that is not enough, Alice McNicholas’s costumes and the rabbit mannequin created by Maia Kirkman-Richards are brilliant and add that extra something that makes this show a joy. I can’t think of a more delightful way for anyone, adult or child, to spend a summer’s afternoon.
Ally In Wonderland runs till 14 August. Further details at www.theruinedtheatre.com