NORTH ESSEX THEATRE GUILD
SHOWCASE FESTIVAL 2012-13
Adjudication Date: Sat Jan 19, 2013
Venue: Lt Waltham Village Hall
Adjudicator: Liz Mullen
A last-minute treat for me, having replaced a distant, snowed-in fellow adjudicator. It was certainly no hardship, with so much imagination and fun to enjoy.
FRONT OF HOUSE:
For once I arrived with time to spare, and received a gracious and friendly welcome, not to mention a glow stick wristband, and refreshments were arranged for the interval.
When the latter came, I was pleasantly surprised to find the delicious shortbread biscuits followed the Wonderland theme of suits of cards. Not only that, they bore a little “Eat Me” tag, matched by a “Drink Me” label hanging from the teacup. Well done for that!
I’m afraid I am not in favour of “breaking prosc”, when actors shatter the magic by stepping beyond the proscenium arch in costume (apart from during the action of the play). So I thought it a bit of a shame that the cheery Joker and Alice herself had to serve ice creams.
There was some nicely jaunty pre-curtain music before the fun began.
SETTING & PROPS:
Panels either side of the tabs depicted an old tree with an owl peeking out, and a convincing (albeit large) rabbit hole. The children’s story mood was emphasised by a gentle sloping view with a meandering stream, castle and rainbow.
I enjoyed all the show’s imaginative settings. The goldmine carts were good, and the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party could have been a scene from a children’s book. Well done for the pouring of the tea out of his sleeve!
The garden set was used in varying situations, which made sense.
All props were apt and often amusing, not least those in the tea party scene. The huge, colourfully striped, cut-out teapot added focus and worked very well as a hiding place for the dormouse.
The palace interior with upper level (well used in a chase) also had stained-glass-effect windows with hearts. As always, the hall itself was used for dramatic exits and entrances, specially the Palace Guard.
I enjoyed the visual feast of costumes in this show, so well done Kathy Jiggins and Norah Southwell. Any expense had been well rewarded as plenty of thought had gone into the choice of costumes.
This applied to all characters, from the trooping “playing card” soldiers to the drippy hippies (cleverly named here the Karma Violets) to the ghastly gnomes to the colourful goldmine workers in their velour suits..
The red, black and yellow joker with his bells, the Mad Hatter’s crazy hat and suit (and lovely pink silky cuffs), the cute little dormouse, the caterpillar/butterfly and of course the rotund Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, all stick in the mind as costumes worthy of an extra round of applause.
The dun-coloured haggis foursome with their tartan “bunnets” and sporrans also gave me a laugh.
The Dame’s costumes were as gloriously outrageous as one could wish. In one scene her hat was a precarious-looking tower of playing cards and she (he!) looked very fetching in pink and purple. The Wizard had wonderful wispy hair, a long, luxuriant gown and sparkly hat.
The Knave was clad in dark, dastardly Tudor style, and the Queen of Hearts looked fearsome - I loved not only her lush red gown and head dress but also the little pursed mouth. Indeed, make-up throughout the evening was very well done with the leadenly pale Mad Hatter, the grinning Cheshire Cat, the anxious White Rabbit and the impossibly lovely young lovers, being some of the memorable faces on display – so well done Marea, June and Julie).
I was impressed by the oh-so-perfect fairytale lovers’ costumes worn by the Prince and Princess, and – of course – Alice looked sweet and innocent and wore the essential Alice band.
The lighting was thoughtfully devised by Chris Little, Daniel Ayris and team. Brighter daytime lighting contrasted with the dimmer golden gleam of the mine, the palace interior and the sinister dungeon-like location with its dusty shaft of light from above.
Lighting effects enhanced the goblin scene, while spots were enthusiastically used, especially for the White Rabbit and for the exits and entrances from the auditorium.
The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party seemed to take on a lovely muted palate of colour that offset the costumes, props and dreamlike atmosphere.
The UV used for the Cheshire Cat scene worked well and the “revealing” and “vanishing” of the magical moggy by use of a curtain and the UV itself was clever.
The UV lit up the signpost and the cast’s spectacles, although our Joker wasn’t quite so dramatically highlighted. The UV butterfly scene was also rather charming.
The glitter ball was used sparingly to good effect, to create a little extra dreamy magic.
The sound crew led by Karen Wray and Dave Newman kept confidently on top of things with a number of music cues and all sorts of lively touches including the zapping noise of the invisible sword fight.
Some very jolly songs, from I Love To Cry At Weddings to We Like To Boogie. The Queen Of Hearts was one of the stronger voices on stage, but everyone had a willing go at their numbers and got a good response from the audience.
I loved the performance of Alice’s Theme. I hadn’t remembered this from the Tim Burton film, but it struck me as a magical change of mood. The cast became totally straight-faced and belted this out as if it were The Ballad Of Sweeney Todd (which it strongly resembles). I also loved the use of Fireflies.
The entrance music Laurel & Hardy theme for the “nice” Dum and Dee switch to something more sinister (Addams Family?) when they were under the evil spell.
Chrissy Gould’s musical direction was graced with Lt Waltham’s enviable band: The combination of keyboards (with the authoritative Darrel Drake), drums (Colin Turner), guitar (James Stirling) and bass (Kevin Jones) worked well, providing the song backing and underscoring silly moments.
The only trick missed in this cleverly-themed show was that the musicians weren’t called The Alice Band!
ALICE: Sweet, but nobody’s fool. Innocent but very inquisitive and lively.
A well-sustained and sardonically humorous performance from suitably petite Hannah Walker.
DAME MILKSOP: A typical man-hunter, Ken Little’s dame was anything but little. Milly was larger than life but never stole scenes from others. A good-natured and entertaining performance.
THE JOKER: Alex Lee established audience rapport from the start and told all the jokes extremely well. Jolly, confident, totally at ease on stage, this was a performance to sit back and enjoy.
KNAVE OF SPADES: Dastardly really is the word for this black-hearted Royal, and Martin Final gave it plenty of evil intent. His “frozen” scene was a good laugh.
TWEEDLE DUM & DEE: Heather France and Debra Hensman looked remarkably alike as the rotund twosome, and had perfected a waddling gait and silly Dawn French grins. Funny whether good or evil, they were always a welcome presence on stage.
QUEEN OF HEARTS: Loved Viv Abrey’s angry, churlish and spoiled Queen Of Hearts, whose shrieks of “Off With Their Heads” were delivered with alarming conviction. Her final mellowing was very appealing and Viv‘s singing voice was impressive too.
KING OF HEARTS: Brian Corrie gave us a real “Yes, dear” henpecked Royal husband, whose belated show of manliness made a heart-warming moment towards the end of the show. His duet with the Queen worked well.
PRINCESS OF HEARTS: Kind, sweet, beautifully dressed and very pretty.
This actress - Kim Travell - exactly fulfilled the specifications of the role.
When performing with her Prince – acting or singing - she was wonderfully expressive and melodramatic, like a figure from a Disney musical.
PRINCE OF DIAMONDS: Again, a great costume and make-up. Verity Southwell was very convincing as a dashing, handsome and confident Prince in love. A good melodramatic pairing, whether acting or singing.
WHITE RABBIT: You could feel the palpitations in Jenni Money’s scuttling, anxious characterisation of this key character, who started and ended this story with Alice.
WIZARD: Like something straight out of Hogwarts, Glyn Jones made a wise old sorcerer, complete with flowing white beard. His avoidance of the pursuing dame was well sustained and the humour nicely downbeat.
MAD HATTER: Looking amazing, Mike Lee portrayed the perfect Mad Hatter. Slightly perplexed by life and totally bonkers, this is a lovely character to play and Mike did it justice.
MARCH HARE: Karen Allen made the most of her one main scene with the Mad Hatter in the tea party scene, adding smoothly to the bizarre atmosphere.
SEGEANT/CATERPILLAR: Nice work from Richard Butler as the condescending, ad-libbing and pupating caterpillar. But Richard’s main contribution was as the ramrod-straight Sergeant, regularly marching through the hall with his hapless troops, barking orders and being all-round entertaining.
CHESHIRE CAT: A nice little scene – magical too – for Sue Joyce as the grinning Cheshire Cat.
DORMOUSE: Vicky Weavers really did look and sound extremely cute as she popped sleepily in and out of the teapot, proclaiming her nonsensical poetry.
ACE & DEUCE: There may be small roles but there no small performances – that’s my creed. Every role adds to the whole might be a more poetic way to put it, so Nicola Ayris and Marea Irving made worthwhile contributions
CHORUS: A round of applause to all chorus members and players of small roles. From spaced-out hippies to haggises, from soldiers to courtiers you all worked hard as part of overall team, and looked great.
Lt Waltham Drama Group has built up a reputation for lovely costumes and entertaining productions. This was no exception and Jenny Broadway had created an evening in which many essential elements came together.
The stage and hall were well-used, lighting, sound, live music, costumes and make-up were all high quality.
As I’ve mentioned, I enjoyed the dramatic staging of Alice’s Theme – very brave in a pantomime, but it worked.
I also liked the way the rabbit reappeared at the end and was followed again by Alice down the rabbit hole –as if the whole weird dream was going to repeat itself like a Lewis Carroll Groundhog Day! Then we were brought back into jolly mood by the walkdown and final song.
So I conclude by saying many thanks for such an enjoyable night out.