On Wednesday night, I went along with my mum, my 6 year old niece and her mum to see Glenn Elston’s Australian Shakespeare Company’s production of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland at Ripponlea House & Gardens in Melbourne.
Years ago, I did some work at the ABC studios which is location next door to Ripponlea. I used to sneak through a gate and into the gardens to eat my lunch. At the time, I had no idea I was trespassing on a National Trust property, I was simply enchanted by the beautiful little “secret garden” that I had found to enjoy for 20 minutes on what were some hectic days. Ever since I realised that Ripponlea was Ripponlea, I have been wanting to go back and have a look around. I am completely captivated by 18th and 19th Century mansions and gardens, those aristocrats sure knew how to throw together a house and land package.
We arrived to friendly faces, who exchanged our tickets for stickers and directed us to a nearby garden where the show would begin. The White Rabbit, played by Ashley McPherson, is the first character to arrive and interact with the audience. The entire performance was highly interactive, which is perfect when the target audience is under 10. The rabbit was infectiously enthusiastic, warming up the audience, training us to respond and all the while being particularly worried because, of course, he’s ever so late…
After singing entertainingly about his predicament, The White Rabbit runs off in the opposite direction from whence he came and Alice, played by Gemma Bishop, appears, seemingly hot on his tail. Bishop’s characterisation of Alice was delightfully charming, her energetic expressions managed to captivate the children, without seeming too over the top to the adults. This precarious balance between be entertaining for both children and adults is a line that the entire production managed to achieve flawlessly.
Naturally, Alice didn’t stay for long in the first garden, she had a rabbit to chase and the audience was able to participate in that chase by following her along a gorgeous garden path, to the property’s main garden. As we followed, I heard a little girl say, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we really did get to go down the hole, like in the real Alice In Wonderland?”. I giggled, thinking how sweet and naive the statement was – although I, myself, had been wondering how the staging of a fall into Wonderland would be approached.
Didn’t I end up feeling the fool when we rounded a bend and there it was. The tunnel into Wonderland! All rainbow and inflatable and a good 20 metres or so for the kids to crawl through. I couldn’t help but laugh and be impressed by the brilliance of that part of the adventure. On the other side of the tunnel, we were in Wonderland.
The main stage was set up wide, so that nobody really had to sit very far from the front, and with a handy tarpaulin thing on the ground so that setting up blankets and things wasn’t a big deal and the show could continue with minimum interruption.
There were a lot of creative staging choices used to bring to life the magic of Wonderland, one of my favourite moments was this take on the classic scene where Alice’s curiosity has her eating and drinking things that cause her to grow smaller and larger.
The script was amusing and performed well, inducing a lot of laughter that was not just from the kids. The cast worked hard, most of them playing many roles as both actors and musicians. I loved the way in which all the music was created live, using talented people, interesting instruments and innovation – such as the cook creating a fantastic beat for the Duchess to sing to using wooden spoons and some pots.
The interactive part of the production made the whole thing more engaging for the kids. They grew taller and shorter with Alice, called out to help her and even became hedgehogs for the Queen of Hearts’ croquet game, participating along with adults who had been recruited to march as playing cards in the Queen’s entourage.
The sun peeked through the clouds to perfectly light the trial that takes place near the end of Alice’s adventures. Thankfully, Alice did not lose her head.
She was safe and able to lead a musical group finale that was a joy to watch and harmonised well amongst the small number of performers.
After the show, we had a little time to explore the gardens. I love the mixture of plant types, all thriving together. I love that old gardens have mature plants that have lived long enough to amaze with their beauty.
I would also very much like to live in this house please.
The pond was looking rather remarkable. In fact, it looked more like the bog of eternal stench from The Labyrinth than a pond. It was covered in some sort of bright green moss/algae type thing. Very strange to see!
My whole body was aching from the effort of walking around and sitting on the ground. I was getting very wobbly on my feet by the time I got back to the car, but it was worth a little exertion to have such a lovely evening.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will be showing at Ripponlea until January 29th. If you are looking for something to entertain the kids, this show is fabulous. Don’t have kids? Borrow one, it was as much fun to watch my niece watch the show as watching the show itself!
Love & Delight,
P.S. I have no idea why apostrophes and ampersands won’t show in my titles…