Review: BUST’s Wonderland

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In the dreary depths of December, BUST’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic fantasy, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, provided an ample respite from work and storm Caroline. 

I was apprehensive about what to expect from Sarah Bridge’s ‘Wonderland’. Should I expect something panto-esque? Or a creative re-imagining of the original, with all the trimmings of over-zealous student theatre? Thankfully it didn’t befit either of these, although was certainly more akin to the former.

This was an auspicious adaptation, respectful to the original premise without blindly following Carroll’s template. It was imaginative without being over-ambitious. Whilst I would have appreciated something which could have tackled some of the deeper and darker themes of Carroll’s original, this was no doubt a crowd pleaser that was hard not to smile at. With some highly humorous writing, moments of inventive direction and a suitably strong sense of peculiarity, ‘Wonderland’ was an impressive effort.

It was particularly noteworthy was how aesthetically pleasing the play was. Quite often the low-budget realities of student theatre debilitates the creative efforts of BUST productions, however ‘Wonderland’ was an exception. The set, a raised platform to the rear of the stage with a black and white chequered floor overlain with impressive disco-like lighting effects, was simple but highly effective in creating something rightly psychedelic. The costumes and make-up were gratifyingly alluring, with the Mad-Hatter’s sprawling coat of intrigue and the card characters’ delightfully assembled sandwich boards (with their own faces drawn on) being particularly memorable.

There were a number of stand-out performances. Sebastian Gethin imaginatively playing the rabbit as an Italian-American Gangster, Lex Bradshaw as the domineering, cosseted and pompous Queen of Hearts was a joy, and Hannah Steiner as Alice: navigating the world of Wonderland with girlish charm.

In general, the rule of plenty applied: the more characters on the stage the better. The various card-characters offered a great deal of comedy, and the energy levels between all the cast in the ensemble scenes, particularly in Act II, were well directed and among the most enjoyable to watch.

A few aspects did not quite hit the mark. The duologues could have done with a bit of a trim, especially as they often lacked the vigour of the larger ensemble scenes. The use of dance to signify the entry and exit into Wonderland, albeit not bad, felt a little drawn out and redundant. It was also difficult at times to hear all the cast members.

Nonetheless, this was a thoroughly entertaining production. Whilst it does not radically re-imagine the tale of Carroll’s own depictions of Wonderland, nor add anything particularly bold to its telling, it converts the magic of the story neatly to the stage with wit, vibrancy and a self-deprecating nod. A well written and directed adaptation, skilfully performed by a talented ensemble cast, suitably supported by a resourceful production team.

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