By BRUCE DENNILL
Alice In Wonderland / Directed by Neka Da Costa / Studio, Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre. Fourways
Lewis Carroll’s timeless tale is a multi-layered narrative where magic and imagination and surrealism combine to create a story that has resonated with readers and audiences (for the book’s many theatrical and cinematic adaptations) for over a century and a half now.
This new family production from VR Theatrical takes all that scope and compresses it onto the tiny stage of Pieter Toerien’s Studio Theatre, leaving it to a small cast to inhabit the wide range of characters who live down the rabbit hole – and to regularly construct fresh sets for each new scene. The variety of the latter is wide, from different-sized doors to the wonky table on which the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party takes place and the croquet lawn on which the Red Queen stalks about, swinging a flamingo around.
The creativity involved in depicting these scenarios goes a long way to making the show effective, but it is the cast’s commitment to telling the story with heart, energy and conviction that really makes the oddball personalities on stage leap out and engage the audience.
As Alice, Gugu Dhlamini’s performance is, fittingly, full of wonder – the child-like, endlessly confident sort, where nothing is thought through too much and a desire to discover what lies around the next corner or through the next doorway, coupled with a compassionate concern for a creature she encountered earlier, keeps her tripping from one curious situation to another.
Sandi Dlangalala, Danny Meaker and Nyeleti Ndubane play all the other characters in the piece between them, from the White Rabbit to the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter to the Duchess and the Dormouse to the Red Queen. They complement each other and Dhlamini beautifully – Dlangalala generally a gentler sort; Meaker clearly enjoying the opportunities for physical comedy and the frenetic aspects of his roles; and Ndubane adding a slightly combative edge (which is completely appropriate for the uptight Red Queen).
The play is pitched well for younger kids, who can simply sit and take in the colours and the frenetic movement and the enchantment, but there are plenty of details that will incite the mirth of the adults in the theatre – tweaks that add local references and dry humour. A great way to spend some family time together.