Thursday, June 20

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Speke Hall

In 1865 Lewis Carroll penned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, followed six years later by its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and here tonight at Speke Hall, one hundred and fifty plus years on, The Pantaloons served up madness and mayhem with this delightfully absurd interpretation of a children’s classic.

As the saying goes, less is more, and never was this so true as our troupe of four performed in the garden of this almost five hundred year old building, with the latest of their three summer productions: whilst the first will be remembered for the fox and the second for excessive airplane disruption, tonight nature and aviation combined to give us several flocks of geese in perfect complement to the anarchic nonsense unfolding before us.

You would never have known that three of the cast had only one Loon year notched on their respective belts whilst the other was a debutante as they satisfyingly segued through director Mark Heyward’s script and original songs, adding their own little takes on it as they embraced audience suggestions and more topical events, with the obligatory use of colour reflected in their neck scarves and shoelaces.

This was a lyrical production from the off as the cast sought audience prompts to deliver some hilarious rhyming songs that quickly got us in the mood for what was to follow with the simplest staging and props both real and imagined to take us on a mysterious tour de force in Wonderland, replete with vibrant energy and great fun: I always say the success of a production can be gauged by the laughter of children and tonight was filled with it, but it was also matched by the laughter of adults which can only mean it was doubly good.

The cast gave strong performances, demonstrating their acting prowess and musical skill, whether that be through singing or live instrument accompaniment, combined with healthy doses of ad-lib and improvisation that served to illustrate their verbal dexterity and quick wittedness.

Paula Gilmore served up an earnest yet immediately likeable Alice who very quickly gets us in on the fun, while Jodie Micciche impressed in equal measure with her heartless Queen, a doubtful Duchess, and, not unusually, a Welsh Bo Peep, although I will never think of Humpty the same after tonight.

Andrew Armfield and Philip Broomhead achieved the impossible by serving up more than one impressive, paired performance as they delighted with their Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and their Hatter and Hare tea party, whilst shining separately in other roles throughout.

Combining choreography, comic timing, and song, together the cast served up many memorable moments, with the flowers sequence and the Jabberwock rendition particularly standout, and their Wonderland finale a truly magical moment of a great evening.

Successful audience engagement can prove a challenge for any production, but tonight’s gentle and fun approach worked to a tee – not to be confused with the wonderful t-shirts on offer post show – and put many a smile on a child’s face and their parents, special moments indeed.

The Pantaloons are a vibrant and anarchic theatre company bringing a vital sense of ‘play’ back to classical performance. Further details of them and their current touring productions at https://thepantaloons.co.uk/

Speke Hall is one of the finest examples of a wood framed wattle-and-daub Tudor manor house and is open to the public. Amongst the many things to discover there are a thunderbox toilet, a priest hole and where the word ‘eavesdrop’ comes from, but not, as an American tourist once queried, why they built it so close to the airport! Further details available at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/liverpool-lancashire/speke-hall

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 19th August 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.
0Shares