Amongst the greenery and heritage-listed mansions of Rippon Lea House and Gardens lies a magical land, a crossover of children’s fantasy; Never Never Land, where Wonderland and Neverland collide.
Produced by Glenn Elston and the Australian Shakespeare Company, Alice in Never Never Land is the latest edition to the company’s suite of children’s theatre performed in the park, following in the tradition of The Wind In The Willows and Alice In Wonderland. Like its fellows, the show is interactive. Audiences can follow their preferred characters through the gardens, sing along, and help defeat the villain.
The combination of these two beloved stories is more a meeting of characters than a joining of plots. Alice (Madeleine Somers) and Peter (Ryan Ireland) get on a treat, both sharing spirits of adventure. The White Rabbit (Darcy Dann) and the Crocodile (Owen Little) set the tone of the show – a furious push and pull between pantomime and absurdity.
The vague story thread is the kidnapping of native American princess Tiger Lily (Dann again) by Captain Hook (Little) but the plot is less important than the overall atmosphere of the production. The costumes are both accurate to their source material and innovative, and the White Rabbit’s outfit is particularly well designed, complete with waist coat. The props are cartoonish and clever – Peter’s tea cup hat is a delight. Of course, the whole thing is cradled by the beauty of the gardens, whose paths and trees provide the show with its nooks and crannies and sense of adventure.
There are jokes for every age group, though rather than the traditional risqué references of pantomime the ‘adult’ comedy is simply based around things older people understand (Snapchat gets a mention). There is, of course, the classic “he’s behind you” gag, executed expertly by Peter and his Shadow (Matti Middleditch).
Watching a gang of families scream out the well worn lines with utter sincerity is delightful. The dialogue can come across a little stilted, especially at the beginning, although it is difficult to tell whether that is a side effect of children’s theatre or the actors warming up. The songs, while catchy and well performed, can be a little difficult to follow during the verses and often drag on a little too long – a problem for the more energetic and easily distracted children in the audience.
Ultimately, Alice in Never Never Land is a fun way to spend an afternoon with your children in the park. It may not be the next Wind in the Willows – a 25 year success for the Royal Shakespeare Company – but it will certainly entertain, and hopefully encourage children to create their own Alice and Peter stories.
Alice in Never Never Land runs from the 6th to the 24th of January in Rippon Lea House and Gardens, 192 Hotham Street, Elsternwick. Shows are on Tuesday to Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. & Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. Tickets are $25 each or $90 for a family of four.