Foolish fun makes great debut

14 April 2021

Total Theatre Company make their professional debut with a circus-infused production of Alice that Rosalind Appleby and junior reviewer Bethany Stopher say had younger children enthralled.

Alice, Total Theatre Company ·
Subiaco Theatre, 13 April, 2021 ·

Total Theatre Company’s production of Alice takes the audience down Lewis Carroll’s rabbit hole into a world that is topsy turvy – literally! The physical theatre company have designed a show that is part circus, part theatre, and for much of the production characters are flipping, tumbling and somersaulting around the stage.

Alice is Total Theatre Company’s first professional production since evolving from Annie Steiner’s physical theatre school into an independent theatre company.

Stainer’s reputation as a mime performer and respected teacher precedes her, and together with her cast of four high energy actors (graduates from the Total Theatre school) she has created an impressive first venture into children’s theatre, with a show that captures physically the absurdity of Carroll’s writing. On Tuesday morning the Subiaco Theatre was packed with small children engaging wholeheartedly in the slapstick and pantomime.

The cast’s candid and transparent approach to storytelling helped bring to life the quirks of the various characters they shared between them. Mira Schaal was a strong and sparky Alice, capturing both the inquisitive and tempestuous aspects of her character as she encounters Wonderland. Sophie Bolton played multiple roles including a Cook who juggles her vegetables plus a very mad Mad March Hare. Rebecca Leonard was the nonsensical White Queen and a very loud, operatic Caterpillar. The multi-talented Aidan Bayliss was an excellent White Rabbit (using stilt walking and puppetry to appear in various sizes as Alice’s perspective changed) and made a dashing White Knight on a stuffed toy horse plus a cameo as a very cute Daisy.

Some scenes stood out especially: the comic banter between Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Bolton and Leonard) hiding behind their umbrella and the “Three little flowers from school” routine by the three Daisies (a Gilbert & Sullivan rip-off). The circus tricks were seamlessly integrated, with plate and hat juggling, wrestling, tumbling, and some inventive uses for bubbles (bubble tea anyone?).

The rainbow-bright costumes by Catherine Edis and lighting by Adelaide Harney gave the characters extra vibrancy, particularly as the set design was sparse – just the black of the theatre backdrop with some occasional props. Despite the colour and cleverness, there were some slow moments. Without a set or a soundtrack the cast had to work extra hard to carry the story along. I missed the way music can help a character connect to the audience on an emotional level. 

Not that there is much opportunity for deep connection in Carroll’s stories; the most helpful advice the Queen gave was “Don’t forget that if you run backwards it will make you feel better,”. Not particularly profound, but something we might be able to try out at home. Along with a bit of stilt walking… I’m looking forward to the next offering from Total Theatre Company already.

Three people crouch among some ferns: a woman in a blue dress frowns, a man with a top hat leans in and a woman with hare ears on her hat sips from a tea cup
Mira Schaal is a tempestuous Alice, watched by Aidan Bayliss as the Mad Hatter and Sophie Bolton as the Mad March Hare. Photo supplied

Junior reviewer Bethany Stopher, aged 14 ·

Alice, produced by the Total Theatre Company and directed by Annie Stainer is a charming performance that delights young children with humour, songs and circus skills.

The performers are all very talented, with huge voices, humour and animated personas. Mira Schaal makes a playful and vibrant Alice, bouncing around the stage and making the children giggle. Aidan Bayliss is a very comical character in general, portraying the frantic White Rabbit, Duchess and Mad Hatter with exuberance. Sophie Bolton is the crazy Cook and Rebecca Leonard the lofty Caterpillar, blowing rings of bubbles instead of smoke while singing operatically. Together, they also form the mischievous pair of Tweedledee and Tweedledum and then, with Bayliss in a wig, three flaunting Daisies. 

However expressive the actors are, it can’t hide the lack of setting. Apart from the occasional party table or giant mushroom barrel, the scenery is a plain black stage. This, as well as the absence of background audio, really takes away from the whimsical atmosphere and makes the storyline unclear. Saying this, they do have some effective props. When Alice grows, a white rabbit stuffed toy pops up; when she shrinks, Bayliss waltzes in on stilts.

I love the incorporation of circus skills. Whether it is juggling, throwing hats onto each other’s heads, acrobatics, or even riding a unicycle at one point, it definitely adds a flair to the performance. Not only are the performers able to execute these challenging tricks, but they master them.

This show is most suited to young children, aged 5 – 10. Following in the great footsteps of the classic novel, it is lighthearted and fun; the comical antics of the strange characters had toddlers in fits of laughter. They loved pointing out that the performers played multiple roles, to which the actors merely grinned and motioned for them to keep it a secret. It was also very interactive, as the children were encouraged to call out their answers and the performers came into the audience. At the end of the concert, the children frolicked under bountiful bubbles, which are a recurring theme in the show.

Overall, I recommend this show for any fun-loving family with little ones. The singing, dancing, and circus tricks are sure to keep young eyes enthralled for an hour of merriment.

Alice continues until 18 April 2021.

Pictured top L-R: Sophie Bolton, Aidan Bayliss and Mira Schaal combine bubbles and circus tricks in Total Theatre’s production of Alice’. Photo supplied

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Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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