It’s a warm early summer day as I walk over to see Alice at the Ada Lovelace Church of England High School, late afternoon sun gleams brightly off the school’s tall windows. Met by cheery children, I am directed to a pre-show tea party of Pimms, scones and sandwiches. There are students buzzing optimistically around with the urgency of rabbits, if not quite the madness of hatters.

 

But this is not Alice in Wonderland, all soft fantasy and happy adventure. This is Laura Wade’s reimagining of a teenager coping with grief, less fanciful, just – Alice.

 

Entering the theatre, the mood is sombre as we join the wake for Alice’s brother. The ensemble shuffle quietly round the stage exchanging small-talk, remarking on the funeral. At the centre of the crowd, the centre of her own world, Alice (played with confident defiance by a talented Adela) sits alone: a ball of isolated angst. The opening scene is notable for strong character performances from the whole ensemble, particularly Alice’s overbearing Mum (an impressive Rhian) and skittish Auntie (embodied energetically by Tabarek). It’s clear from the off that Alice is struggling to cope with the world around her. Her only coping mechanism is to cut herself off from her family and friends, retreating further and further into the sanctuary of her own mind until – wait, where are we?

 

Suddenly, Alice finds herself in Wonderland with no idea what to do. Until the White Rabbit races into the room. Played with bounding enthusiasm by Lukas he sets Alice off on an adventure ostensibly to find the ‘heart’ of Wonderland, but also on a journey of self-discovery. The skill of this adaptation is in watching Alice confront the death of her brother in this wonderland of her own creation, learning how to cope with loss. It’s a credit to the strength of the characterisation work done by the cast that we recognise several of the original funeral-goers in the fantasy characters of this world. There are plenty of beautiful ensemble moments, underscored by slick music from Miss Grogan. The in-the-round staging works well also, serving the piece rather than hindering it. The Mad Hatter’s constantly revolving tea party works particularly well, orchestrated by the charismatic Kalina.

 

Most of all, Wonderland is brought to life vividly by some brilliant turns from its cast of creatures. The wonderfully brooding Cheshire Cat (played enigmatically by Danielle) brings smiles all round, turns from Tweedles Dum and Dee (Fiala & Masoda) are playfully witty, and the uproarious Hedgehog (surely a role Zaeyn was born to play?) all keep us well entertained on Alice’s journey. I was immensely impressed with this young but talented team of actors, who embodied their characters completely and even threw in well-judged improvisations to humour the audience.

 

More than this, though, the play is properly moving. Alice leaves wonderland with words of wisdom from the White Rabbit: she has to learn to live with her pain, it will get easier. The final scene, in which Alice leaves the house for the first time since her brother’s death, flanked by the friendly creatures of her Wonderland genuinely brings a tear to my eye. This excellent production may confront some of the darkest feelings we can experience, but expertly shows us the rays of sunshine we need to live with them.