Tea is served . . . Pictures: Pamela Raith

Alice in Wonderland

Derby Theatre


Derby theatre have been trailblazers in the provision of British Sign Language performances over the past several years, performances which have drawn out some of their best work.

Alice in Wonderland is theatrical gold. A phantasmagorical construct where anything and everything is possible. Where chaos abounds, and nothing is quite what it appears. Nicola Wernowska is the writer entrusted with making sense of it all in her new production

This is a family show so I brought with me a five year old boy, two eight year old girls and a ten year old boy to give me their verdicts, theirs being the ones that matter.

The set (courtesy of Emily Bestow) is magnificent, brightly lit (Alexandra Stafford), lavish, colourful and sprawling, with two raised elevated balconies a fun feature, a slide providing a connection between the two worlds.

The show occasionally teeters towards the chaotic, but is steadied by a tremendous performance from April Nerissa Hudson as the Queen of Hearts. April delighted Derby when she performed in Home Girl several years ago, and revels in being the centrepin now.

Director Sarah Brigham enjoys her political undertones. Here April channels a bizarre mix of Liz Truss (Kwasi Kwarteng fell victim to one of her “off with his head moments”), and Suella Braverman, in not even countenancing the possibility she could be wrong. Education is not allowed, as an educated Wonderland would do no-one any good- would it?

The costumes, and shoes, were -simply gorgeous, realised by Tim Heywood.

Composer Ziad Jabero has created an original score which fuses folk with Rap, “Stop the queen” being the best. My five-year-old loved all the songs.


The second act is mainly taken up by the Tea Party and the trial. My two eight-year-olds were thrilled by the tea party, a visual delight and a celebration of being bonkers, but particularly that number.

I saw two performances of this, the first a preview on Saturday, and the second, tonight, Press night. It is to director Sarah Brigham’s credit that the shortcomings of the preview, mainly a longer than needed first Act,w ere put right with a shorter and much sharper first act which in turn energised the entire cast. The result was something clearer and snappy with the eighty or so Brownies and rainbows sat in front of me spellbound.

The BSL was well integrated into the story, and never once felt clunky, with my ten-year-old engaged throughout, although I would say that the show best suits junior school age children. Rhianon Hopkins shone as the mouchard making the most of the running gag that the French for rat is rat. Rhianon May was energetic and convincing as the naïve Alice, Chiomi Uma had great fun transforming Wonderland into a smoky jazz club.

Such is the textual density of Lewis Carroll’s original work that paring it down into an eighty minute (not including interval) stage show is an Augean task, Writer and Director can be proud of the result. The Tea Party continues until Saturday 6th July. 

Gary Longden


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