Since its inception, the Anywhere Theatre Festival has seen some unique and wonderful venues discovered for producing theatre, has brought new shows into the light and has seen some past jewels returned in new and exciting spaces. Such is the case with Wondered by Elodie Boal, an unnerving trip back into Wonderland where the audience gets to visit a final, terrible, tea party. Stepping into The Sideshow in Brisbane’s West End, with its hipster edge and small cosy tables leading back into a sectioned off warehouse setting, audiences knew they were in for something unexpected.
As writer, director, and producer Boal embraced the zany nature of Wonderland, and it’s oppositional, often confrontational stylings, with realism smashing hard up against absurdism. As with Alice’s first trip down the rabbit hole, it was clear there was a set of rules for this tea party. Discovering what they were, and realising when they had changed on you was a wonderful mirror to Alice’s first experience. Indeed, even when the eponymous heroine reappears, it’s clear that the set up is darkly different from what she had been expecting.
Boal keeps a tight rein on the style of the production, with smartly paced dialogue, sharp, often choreographed, movements, and excellent use of stillness and silence. Everything about the design of the production is referential to the stories that we know have come before, and the table is littered with nods to the story and Lewis Carrol himself (half the table is covered in mathematical formulae, a nod to the original tellings of the story).
A standout of the night, Reagan Warner as the Hatter was certainly more Mad than not. Bringing a devilish charm to his dichotomous nature, Warner used impressive physicality to explore both the traditional “zany” aspects of the character and also a darker, twisted, Machiavellian side that is steadily becoming more popular in our zeitgeist. Vocally and technically commanding there was no doubt left that this was the Hatter’s tea party we were at, and you had best mind your manners.
In a show that embraced duality, Elodie Boal took on double (or quadruple) duty, as Alice returned to Wonderland to visit with old friends. Boal brought a lovely combination of wide-eyed innocence and newfound maturity to the role, and her performance felt fresh and new. Much of the fun was watching an older Alice, much more sure of herself and the surrounding madness, matching wits with the Hatter. Boal’s Alice is much less trusting and as boundless as her enthusiasm is, she only allows herself to be pushed so far before resisting.
It can be difficult changing expectations. Especially when our culture has such a clear image of what a character should look like. Lindi Milbourne’s Ches (Cheshire Cat) doesn’t look like the cartoon, there is no nod to bright pink and purple fur or a mysteriously fading grin, but in every inch does she embody the role. Languorous movements, self-assured speech, and an oozed knowledge that while she was a guest to the party, she was every bit as important as the Hatter in this setting. Milbourne’s performance is as subtle as it is commanding, and her uncertainty when she realises something is horribly wrong is masterfully understated.
As the Tweedles, Gary Farmer-Trickett (Dee) and Trent Sellars (Dum) have a relationship that is beautifully symbiotic to watch. Every aspect of their life feels integrated and together, the way the two anticipate one another’s movements is a credit to the hours spent in rehearsal and Boal’s clear attention to detail. Farmer-Trickett is protective, strong, and every bit the older brother, carefully doting on Dum. As for Dum, Trent Sellars was so adorable audience members wanted to take him home and keep him. His characterisation was perfect, childlike and full of wonder and greed.
This was a spectacularly executed production, not one of the actors missed a beat, and The Sideshow and Mira Ball Productions fit together like a hand in a glove. It would be wonderful to see these two entities continue to work together.
On top of it all, Wondered is a must-experience piece of theatre, so if you see nothing else that the Anywhere Theatre Festival is putting on this year (and that would make you Mad as a Hatter) get a ticket for this strictly limited return season! Although – much like Alice returning to Wonderland, it would be a shame if this production didn’t come back for another visit.