Stage: Alice in Wonderland – Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, UKZN campus, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
MARKING the 14th pantomime scripted and directed by KickstArt’s Steven Stead since 2004, Alice in Wonderland is as high-gloss a Christmas cracker as one could get – everything you would expect from Durban’s widely acclaimed, award-winning theatre company.
The richly textured production takes the whacko fantasy world of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel and, under the collective magic wands of magician Stead, designer extraordinaire Greg King, ace lighting designer Tina le Roux and an exuberant cast, turns the logic-defying, topsy-turvy realm into an altogether curiouser and curiouser delight.
Lent additional characters, extra wit, corny cracks, slapstick, topical references, song and dance aplenty and, in true KickstArt panto tradition, loads of heart and soul, this an Alice that hops along new pathways while lovingly tipping hats to Carroll’s classic. To say it is enormous fun for the whole family is an understatement!
Georgina Mabbett-Kelly, fondly remembered for her principal roles in KickstArt’s Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, makes a perfect Alice. Not only because she has her own flowing golden locks, but because she injects a spot-on sense of wonder and delight into her performance, and is in good voice throughout.
Other KickstArt panto regulars return for this outpouring of kaleidoscopic nonsense that advocates being curious about life, dreaming big and expecting the unexpected, but there are some conspicuous absentees.
Longtime panto favourites Bryan Hiles and Darren King are missed this year – both are currently performing in Durban’s adult panto, 031 Temptations, at Club Altitude in Stamford Hill – but, having said that, what a great treat to see some new, if not unfamiliar, faces among the cast.
TV and stage performer Blessing Xaba – Fatty in the Spud movies and a delight as Horton the Elephant in Durban’s 2011 Young Performers production of Seussical The Musical, directed by Stead – makes a memorable, grand dame, a constant scene-stealer as ditzy Nora Knowalot, Alice’s nursemaid.
Also making a welcome return to Durban is Roland Perold who, now based in the Cape, was seen locally, nine years ago come February, alongside Stead, Jessica Sole and Lisa Bobbert in KickstArt’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. He was also The Lost Boy in Durban’s 2010 adult panto, Peter Pan.
Here he is cast as The Knave of Hearts, sarcastic sidekick to the tart-carrying Queen of Hearts, played with high-screech and twitching eyes by Liesl Coppin.
She is delicious, has a ball in the role and wins loud applause for her rendition of a Tina Turner classic, assisted by the Knave of Hearts and silly twins Tweedle Dee (a scene-stealing Iain ‘Ewok’ Robinson, on excellent form) and Tweedle Dum (James Cuningham, last seen in Durban in KickstArt’s The Play That Goes Wrong).
Also among the cast are Belinda Henwood, pretty as a picture as the White Queen; the ever-delightful Mthokozisi Zulu as the White Rabbit; and a bouncy and bubbly Lyle Buxton as the Mad Hatter.
Completing the cast, filling multiple roles, are hard-working dancers Katherine Anderson, Pavishen Paideya, Sanele Mzinyane and Simone Mann, the latter of whom also choreographed the show, marking her first professional production as a choreographer.
The production is filled with sparkle and surprises that include two large flying creatures, enchanted gardens, amusing puppet characters, a fun bake-off between Nora Knowalot and the Queen of Hearts, and a courtroom scene that leads to Alice breaking into a catchy Taylor Swift number.
Also of note is a showstopping comedy routine involving a duel between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, who also get to lead the audience singalong in the traditional competition ditty for which lyrics are displayed on a large cloth.
Stead’s script is laden with wisecracks and mickey-takes, with nods to everything from loadshedding, Home Affairs officials, Galleria mall, Clicks and the municipality, to celebs including Steve Hofmeyr, Justin Bieber, Patricia de Lille, Donald Trump, Miley Cyrus, Helen Zille, Siya Kolisi and Caster Semenya.
Songs have been carefully and well chosen to comment on the story or move the plot along. They include a number of popular tunes from hit musicals as well as hits associated with acts as diverse as Lady Gaga, Mango Groove, Adele and Meghan Trainor. A fun, competitive rap between the twins is also on the songsheet.
Featuring vocal arrangements by Evan Roberts and Roland Perold, musical supervision by Jason Bird, and sound design by Ross van Wyk, Alice in Wonderland is a blast – and certainly Durban’s must-see show of the festive season.
The panto runs until January 5. Tickets cost R150, R200 and R250 for adults (R120, R180 and R200 for children, pensioners and students). Booking is at Computicket.