Tuesday, 6 April 2021

REVIEW: Alice in Wonderland at the Motherwell Theatre (Online)

Motherwell Theatre, in association with Starbright Entertainments, regularly produce an Easter pantomime so this year they are forced to deliver their latest one in a streamed version into our homes. This has the huge advantage of making it available to a much wider audience rather than just their local Scottish one. The result is a fresh slick eighty-minute retelling of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. It is a technically very good-looking show, well-lit and costumed with a high-quality clear video and audio track.

Written and directed by Phil Norton with additional material by local Motherwell Panto legend Ian ‘Sheepie’ Smith who also plays the White Rabbit it is a combination of straightforward storytelling of the classic story combined with some very familiar pantomime routines and a sprinkling of magic. In the absence of a live audience, they imagine the responses from the virtual audience while addressing them straight down the camera. Sheepie’s comic face and energy engage the remote audience well and you almost believe he can hear the responses!

Alice is played by vocalist Holly Reynolds in the perfect image of the standard blue and white dress. She gets to sing the original songs by Olly Ashmore, James Harrison, and Tom Whalley: “Wonderland Dream” and “Land of make-believe” which are pleasant tunes. Slightly odder is the “Mad Hat shop” song sung by Gary Morrison as the Mad Hatter with singalong subtitles. If anything, the show could have benefited from a few more songs. Fraser Boyle doubles up as Alice’s Governess and the Queen of Hearts and leads a clever pun-filled quiz routine using TV show titles and a weakest link routine with some new sounding gags and they include another pantomime favourite of the Echo gag routine. Phil Norton appears as the Mad March Hare with the Dormouse as a ventriloquist’s dummy for the Tea Party.

The magician and illusionist Louise AndrĂ©e Douglas plays the Cheshire Cat and adds some magical tricks to the show appearing from nowhere in a lightbox and later in a cage as well as making a key and flowers appear. Indeed, given the nature of the setting, it would have been great to see more of her illusions although the edit does add some good digital effects of Alice growing and shrinking and falling down the rabbit hole. The JubJub Bird from the Jabberwocky makes an appearance in a UV scene to the tune of “The Stripper”.

Some of the routines don’t work like the bizarre butter and jam on the White Rabbit’s watch and a generally weak cooking scene making jam tarts together with topical but out of place references to Jackie Weaver’s Village Council and to someone having “the people skills of Pritti Patel”. Equally the inclusion of local Scottish references fall on deaf ears to any viewers south of the border.

This is an enjoyable show benefitting from a different story from the usual pantomimes and has been very well produced and captured. Its final message of being kind and brave and showing respect seems appropriate for our time and makes you wonder whether to plan a trip to Motherwell for next Easter’s Mother Goose! 

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★

Seat: Online | Price of Ticket: £10
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