REVIEW: The Australian Shakespeare Company Presents ALICE IN NEVER NEVERLAND

Fun and fantasy among the flora

By Kim Edwards

Nineteenth-century fiction is a passion of mine so I had some misgivings about this merry mash-up of children’s classics directed by Glenn Elston, but there is plenty to like in this bright and bustling show. Alice in Never Neverland sees Alice (Madeleine Somers) take a wrong turn from Wonderland and unexpectedly meet Peter Pan (Ryan Ireland) in the always-delightful setting of the Ripponlea Estate gardens. Ireland is both dynamic and endearing, while Somers balances sweetness with a wicked sense of comic timing and an unexpected flair for slapstick, and their joint charm highlights how well these two fictional characters actually work together. Plenty of familiar features from both famous novels come into play during the 90-minute performance: outstanding moments include the hilarious choreography as Pan catches up with his lost Shadow (deftly performed by Matti Middleditch), the Mad Hatter’s sterling showmanship (Dennis Manahan) especially when upstaged by six-year olds, and the reveal of the rather ingenious final set-piece as Captain Hook (Owen Little, who was equally fabulous as the Crocodile) meets his match with sword fights and cannon balls lobbed by the eager kids.

Alice In NeverNeverland with DennisManahan_PHOTOCREDIT Matt Deller

There are strong efforts to keep the lively audience engaged throughout, including this final battle, joining search parties to check the nearby paths, characters venturing out among the picnic blankets and encouraging participation, and the lovely meet-and-greet offered afterwards – the multitude of kids are clearly having a ball, and all the cast are beautiful interacting with them. I also loved the clever costuming, and admired the slick and practical use of props and the space.

However, while respecting the need to change characters and balance out stage time between the six busy artists, it is disappointing there is no strong storyline holding the performance together. The show is more a series of vignettes, but even then the flow of ideas, dialogue and songs within scenes is often disjointed. I didn’t understand the ‘Wallaroos’ thing at all, the clever connection of the White Rabbit’s watch and the Crocodile’s clock came to naught, the ‘find Peter’s Shadow’ plot was forgotten by the script but not the audience (which made for some awkward interruptions), the regular “I feel like a song” device felt sloppy, and Darcy Dann and Middleditch had the difficult task of navigating racial issues with the inclusion of Tiger Lily and Big Chief and their ‘tribal’ songs…

But there – I’m a grumpy ol’ reviewer, and Alice in Never Neverland remains a very fun, funny and definitely entertaining family event. $90 for four includes entry to the gardens (an adventure unto itself) – bring blankets and picnic baskets, sunscreen and hats, and costumes are encouraged!

Alice in Never Neverland is playing Tue-Fri at 10.30am and 6pm and Sat at 10.30am (also 6pm Jan 10th) at the Ripponlea House and Gardens (192 Hotham St, Elsternwick) until Jan 24 2015.