Review: ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Brixton House Theatre

Brilliantly conceived and executed family show rooted, in every sense, in its local community

By: Dec. 08, 2022
Review: ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Brixton House Theatre

Review: ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Brixton House Theatre Rather like the play itself, Brixton House is set in the heart of its community which it will serve as a cultural hub for generations. What a splendid, confident addition it is - like the best 21st century theatres, it is a destination in its own right.

Not that one needs an excuse to take the underground to the end of the Victoria Line to see a play set on the underground at the end of the Victoria Line, because Poltergeist Theatre have created a gem of a Christmas show ideal for, as the deathless phrase has it, kids of all ages.

Alice (a wonderfully petulant Nkhansie Phiri) is bickering with her mother about all the things that tweens bicker about and storms off the carriage only to find herself on another tube train in the company of some very unusual passengers indeed. She's studying Lewis Carroll's book for English, so she recognises some of the eccentric travellers, but they're a little different in real life. Soon they're half-helping, half-hindering her as she tries to get home, but she earns their trust, helps them with a range of hang-ups and rallies them against The Queen. She's driving the train to nowhere with a tyrant's zeal and must be defeated - and she learns a few lessons of her own in the battle.

Jack Bradfield has pulled off that wonderful trick of writing a script that appeals in equal measure to kids and adults, with a running gag integrating tube stations into the dialogue (an old Two Ronnies sketch that one) and many in-jokes for fans of the source novel to leaven the slapstick. There's a nod or two towards the train in Spirited Away, a film that also owes much to Carroll's classic, and an edge about alienation in a moral that is heartfelt and explicit, but never heavy-handed in its didactic mission.

The youngsters can take away Alice's character arc towards acknowledging the power of love within a family that has problems that don't actually centre on her; the older (okay, much older) members of the audience can contemplate the dangers of life passing one by on a loop from one faceless station to the next.

The ensemble cast are tremendous, conjuring vivid characters at a helter-skelter pace. Toyin Ayedun-Alase, Khai Shaw, Rosa Garland and Will Spence charm us all and can scare us a little too, but not so as to provoke nightmares. Even they are upstaged by sensational sound design by Alice Boyd, a gorgeous and spectacular set full of surprises by Shankho Chaudhuri and Hamiltonesque raps from lyricist and rapperturg (yes, true), Gerel Falconer. Clearly, there is a little more budget available than one often finds on the fringe, but it's been extremely well spent, down to tiny details that I suspect only those lucky enough to bag a front row seat on the traverse stage could appreciate.

There's barely a pause over the two hours or so running time and I doubt there's better value anywhere in London if you're looking for a family show that starts and finishes in Brixton but takes you on the most extraordinary flights of fancy in-between.

Alice in Wonderland is at Brixton House Theatre until 31 December

Photo Credit: Helen Murray