In this show, billed as theatre for all the family, Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There gains a musical makeover. Alice slips through the mirror into a land where she hopes to be a Queen, and meets a host of strange characters in a turned-about world. She gains the trappings of adulthood – high-heeled shoes for one – hoping, as her mother suggests, that changing what is outside will change the inside. But as she goes, she begins to question whether growing up is really what she wants after all.
This is a sympathetic telling of the story, including well-sung versions of favourite poems, and the small cast did well capturing many of the multitude of Carroll’s characters. People familiar with the book will enjoy the choice of poems and characters; although the absence of the Red King was notable, we meet the flowers, the Queens and Humpty Dumpty. Tweedledum and Tweedledee are evoked especially finely, with the excellent timing and teamwork which are so important for those roles.
I enjoyed the songs; the tunes are a good fit, and are all very well played. But unless you are already familiar with the pieces, some of the poems are sung too quietly and quickly to appreciate the words. And this is an example of a general problem: for a show that’s aimed at children from age 5 and up, it’s less accessible than it could or should be. Carroll’s original language is inevitably dated, and much of the humour is solely verbal, requiring experiences above what children will typically have to appreciate the backward nature of the world.
The relatively simple setting – with no scenery and few props – doesn't help children to engage with the absurdist humour or bizarre imagery. The parallels with a chess game and cutting bread to eat with oysters, for example, are generally not familiar for younger people, and without additional visuals much of the humour was lost on them. Looking at the children in the audience, I felt they were occupied but not engaged by the piece; it was noticeable too that the adults laughed at points the children did not.
I feel the style of both the work and this production might be better targeted at teenagers and adults, with the consequence that the moral would need to be less heavy-handed. Sadly, as it stands, this work is not very accessible to the younger audiences it claims to cater for. But if you are a fan of the Alice books – and old enough that life experience and dated language aren’t an issue – then this is an enjoyable adaptation, featuring many of the characters and poems that are so well loved.