Alice In Funderland at the Abbey Theatre
Alice in Funderland at the Abbey Theatre is very good. You should go see it.
There’s little else you really need to know – except here’s where to buy tickets and to remember that it’s based on Alice in Wonderland – a modern, Dublin based retelling, repurposing and refining of the Lewis Carroll classic, expertly told by an amazing cast with big dance numbers, beautiful ballads and happy clappy songs.
Why is that important? Well, to me the star of this show is the writing, with the cast and production giving their hearts to bring something extraordinary and brilliant to the Abbey Stage. It’s the adaptation that makes the piece so great – with the talent of an incredibly hard working team there helping it become something beautiful.
I’m writing this review almost hesitantly – I’ve seen it three times now (once in January 2011 (I loved it), at last Friday’s Dress Rehearsal (I thought it was good) and last night’s opening night where I was an invited guest. People I know, like, respect and adore are working on the production, so I’m obviously invested in a way – AND I’m a fan of musicals and the Abbey Theatre generally. Taking all that into account (and you should) here’s my thoughts on what Alice in Funderland is:
It’s bold, courageous, beautiful, fabulous and fun. It’s extraordinary and it’s clever. It’s extremely well written and delivered – the script is full of modern, cultural and somewhat iconic references, quotes and irreverences (“fat, bald, middle-aged dickhead” particularly amused me, given Twink was in the audience, as well as the references to “having the painters in”, the “champagne of water” and the Anchormanesque scenes between Gobhnait and Fachtna) and it’s accessible, no matter what style of theatre you’re familiar with. Even more so if you have any understanding of Alice in Wonderland at all.
I’ve taken a few hours to write this because I wanted to give it the time it deserves. Even since the first dress rehearsal last Friday, it has grown, developed and improved massively (and people at that loved it!) For something that started four years ago as an idea for an event, evolving into a musical and then the decision to make it from Alice in Wonderland, there’s far more of a story here than someone taking a book and putting in Dublinese or giving the characters Northside accents.
A huge amount of work has gone into making Alice In Funderland as good as it is – from script to music, to choreography to lighting, to amazing costumes to rehearsals to set design to improvisations and revisions – it’s a true testament to their consummate skill as theatre professionals that any of the crew are able to stand today at all!
— Shane Byrne (@ShaneDanByrne) April 4, 2012
A friend said last night that if you could cut Alice in Funderland open, the cast would bleed. There’s a huge amount of love, passion and enthusiasm for the project. Even in the sit-throughs last year the quality was evident, but last night (and indeed Friday) a real exuberance and commitment shone through on stage. It was as if the cast – many of them making their Abbey Theatre debuts, not that you’d know it – felt how lucky they were to be there and wanted to share that with the audience.
I spent time last night watching the audience reactions to parts I knew were coming up. They laughed, they smiled, they bopped, they gasped, they moved and were moved. There was no passive “Oh I’ll just watch this to see what happens” – people were genuinely engaged in the piece. There was no question about the standing ovation at the end. It had to be done. It was long, sustained and deserved.
Many people who hadn’t seen it but were invited or attracted by the buzz loved it as much as those of us lucky enough to see it in the Project Arts Centre last year. I got the sense people were pleasantly surprised. Such reactions are important in theatre – give people more than they expect so they’ll talk more about it is a clever way to be.
While the entire ensemble deserves praise, Sarah Greene once again shone as Alice. Demure, petite, beautiful and perfectly cast, her talent to act, sing, dance (she does a mean robot) and mug appropriately shone through. I love watching her on stage. Though I’m repeating myself, she’s a selling point for me – I’ll go to shows because she’s in them. She played a naive, battered, world weary, ditsy and confused Alice to perfection. She has a wonderful singing voice and a brilliant stage presence.
Mark O’Regan is also a revelation. A well known face to many, his various characters bring extra dimensions of hilarity to the stage. Ian Lloyd Anderson too is his usual brilliant self. I’ve seen him in a number of productions and find him compelling. Paul Reid, I’m convinced, is a polymorphic singing, dancing, acting cyborg from the future. I barely recognised him from the award winning Man of Valour last year and in this piece as “The Gay” he struts, minces and skates around the stage owning every scene.
Susannah de Wrixon and Ruth McGill deserve special mention, not only for their performances throughout but the sensitivity with which they perform “We’re all Torsos in the Banal” (if that’s what it’s called) is quite touching, despite the subject matter. It was as if the entire audience was holding its breath last night.
Lisa Byrne too is fantastic – one of the few actors who could have hammed it up more last night and gotten away with it. She delivers a believable and funny foil to the Queen and Duchess and is terrifically enjoyable. Lots of people loved Kathy Rose O’Brien as Gobhnait in the Afternoon Tea Show – she’s a great comic actress.
Despite my love for Sarah, the true queen of the piece is Tony Flynn. Bonham Carter has nothing on him. As Delores, the Queen of H(e)artstown he dominates his scenes, commanding attention, respect and fear in some cases. I’m fascinated with how Tony has taken this iconic character and made it his own.
There are certain roles that I associate actors with no matter what else I see them in (Rory Nolan in Peer Gynt, Amy Conroy in I <3 Alice <3 I, Marie Mullen in Last Days of a Reluctant Tyrant, Paul Reid in Man of Valour, Cillian Murphy in Misterman etc etc) and I think no matter what else I see Tony in now, he’ll be the Queen of Heartstown to me.
There are so many people I didn’t mention there. It’s a brilliant cast.
Special mention too to both the set designers and costume departments – they’re fabulous and as eye-catching as they should be – visually it’s a treat. A glorious, technicolour feast.
The music too was fantastic. I’m not sure of the actual song titles but from the opening “Get it Together” through “Come on Down to Dublin Town” to “Which Way is Home?” to the Damien Dempseyesque “Know Yourself” to the Lés Mis “Broke, Tattoed and Toothless” to “We’re All On The Edge” to “Real Capital” to “Cut From The Same Cloth” to “Torsos in the Banal” to the final, thrilling “There Is No Fear”, I’m really hoping the soundtrack is released.
So yes, I loved it. There are the usual things you could find minor fault in, but if you accept you’re going to see a funny Dublin version of Alice in Funderland, performed with panache, style and a healthy dose of self referential irreverence, you should be fine. How much did I love it? Well, I’ve booked two more tickets for May 1. I look forward to seeing it later in the run to see how much it’s grown.
Want to see what other people are saying? Some of the many tweets under the #AliceInFunderland hashtag are below:
— Nick (@nhead77) April 4, 2012
— FlONN (@fionnkidney) April 5, 2012
— Mark Kavanagh (@djmarkkavanagh) April 5, 2012
— RowenaNeville (@RowenaNeville) April 4, 2012
— Eithne Harley (@EithneHarley) April 4, 2012
— Joe Clarke (@thisisjoeclarke) April 4, 2012
— Eric O Brien (@Eric_O_Brien) April 3, 2012