Last weekend my six year old and I delved south of the River to Brixton House theatre for Poltergeist Theatre company’s reinvention of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’. Set on the tube in a Victoria line station and peppered with rap music and the recognisable sights and sounds of Brixton, we couldn’t wait to see this urban twist on a classic tale. Here is our review of Alice in Wonderland Brixton House.
Down the Rabbit Hole…or in THE GAP
It’s widely speculated (albeit unproven) that Alice’s adventures were written ‘under the influence’. You could be forgiven for thinking that Poltergeist’s reworking is of a similar ilk. But this is a show with clear intentions – a theatrical, literary mashup of epic proportion. In a blink of an eye poor Alice, a typical Brixton schoolgirl gets separated from her mum after an explosive argument at Brixton underground station. A frenzy of commotion ensues (think ‘Speed’ meets ‘Sliding doors’) as she and indeed we, are catapulted into a parallel universe.
In this ‘wonderland’ the train never stops. Alice and the train’s motley crew of characters are hostages at the mercy of a Queen who has hijacked the train. With false promises that ‘they are on track’ for a fictitious final destination, the Queen and ‘groundhog day’ status quo remain unchallenged.
Until Alice comes along. In this dystopian nightmare, where despair has numbed everyone into submission, Alice must convince the other characters – Pigeon, rat , Chatter and nose to rise to action and rebel against the treacherous queen of the line. Nkhanise Phiri gives a stellar performance as the bizzarely convincing 11 yr old Alice who spends all her time writing lyrics and learns to use her rhymes to galvanise the rebel cause. Special mention to the rest of the cast who double if not triple up on parts. All do so with unflinching ease, exiting and entering form different ends of the stage in lightning speed, with a full change of costume and accent to boot.
‘We don’t talk on the tube!‘
The set design and staging is also cleverly crafted. As an audience we become complicit in the this universe. Sat in rows facing facing one another with the train interior tearing through the middle of the theatre space. Crammed in, staring straight ahead and silenced, like the muted commuters Alice and friends fear becoming.
‘Life is Like Hyde Park …it has corners.’
Written by Poltergeist’s Jack Bradfield (Ghost walk), the script is most memorable for its relentless references to London Underground stations. Some may say to a fault (I read one review which counted 120). Knowingly cheesy, this felt fittingly pantomimic considering it is on the festive bill and if anything added to its London-centric charm.
Like the cheeky chappy familiarity of cockney rhyming slang, this thread of innuendo came to be the running joke. Unfortunately this went over the head of my six year old. As did the lovely references to Brixton life – the Lido, Electric Avenue, the Ritzy and of course Brixton House itself – (we Must get some culture!). However, locals will undoubtedly delight in this fond depiction of Briton’s treasures.
Is Poltergeist’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ suitable for young children?
The age guidance for this show is 7+ and I think for good reason. The show has a distinctly more adult feel to it than many of the kids’ Christmas shows we have seen recently. Running for 1hr 40 mins with a 15 minute interval, it could prove a struggle for a younger audience. There are also moments of darkness and flashing lights to depict confusion that may cause alarm. My 6 year old really enjoyed the show, the performances were infectious and the delivery easy to understand although many of the jokes were beyond his comprehension. The first half also feels quite heavy as the stage is set for the big action scenes of the second half.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this show for families but I would strongly encourage for parents of tweens/teenagers or those studying Caroll’s work. Poltergeist, (self described as an ‘award winning theatre company that misbehaves’) have reworked in a way that is relevant, compelling and brazenly cool. A contemporary Christmas adventure for the whole family and fantastically original update of the classic text.
Alice in Wonderland is Showing at Brixton House (formerly Ovalhouse Theatre) a new theatre and cultural hub in the heart of Brixton, until 31st December 2022. A family ticket deal is available. Book Here
Nkhanise Phiri – Alice
Toyin Ayedun-Alase – Queen of the Line, Chatter, Mum
Khai Shaw – Rabbit, Pigeon
Rosa Garland – Tortoise, Dee, Rat
Will Spence – Cat, Dum, Nose
Jack Bradfield – Director/Lead Writer
Alice Boyd – Composer/Sound Design
Shanko Chaudhuri – Set Design
Debbie Duru – Costume Design
Gerel Falconer – Rapperturg/ Lyricist
Israel Kujore- Illustrator
Rajiv Pattani – Lighting design
Khai Shaw – Dance Captain