Alice in Funderland at the Abbey

I’m at the Abbey Theatre to see Alice in Funderland. Finally. I’ve been looking forward to this since I saw Thisispopbaby‘s work-in-progress at the Project Arts Centre in January 2011. Even without props or set, it was a spectacular show and a wonderful night’s entertainment. I couldn’t wait to share this funny, clever show and it’s glorious songs with as many people as possible. And now fifteen months later, here we are. The entire auditorium is twinkling in the light of three spinning disco balls and a hot-pink chaise lounge sits on stage in front of a wall of gaudy blue and white wallpaper. This is the sitting room of a well-to-do Cork family. We know it’s Cork because of the framed, carefully lit photograph of Michael Collins on the wall. (Though I had to ask my Mammy who he was!) The bright, candy colours are a long way from the squalor of Juno and the Paycock‘s tenement home, which was the last show I saw on the Abbey stage.

Susannah de Wrixon as Susan in Alice in Funderland by Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell. Photography Richard Gilligan.
Susannah de Wrixon as Susan in Alice in Funderland by Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell. Photography Richard Gilligan.

I was delighted when it was announced that Alice in Funderland would be on at the Abbey. It needed a big stage and a big budget to really reach it’s full potential. It was great as a rehearsed reading at the Project but as a full-scale musical, with a full band and spectacular costumes, it would be even better. It also meant lots of people would get to see the show. The full production was shiny and sparklier and with more crazy costumes and impressive dance moves than I could have possibly imagined.

When we meet Alice (Sarah Greene), she is arguing with her Dad, who has deemed her a bad investment and is refusing to lend her any more money. Her sister Susan (Susannah de Wrixon) is preparing for her wedding and being a bit of a bridezilla. When Alice loses Susan in a Dublin night-club during her hen party, Alice suddenly find herself lost in and alone in the Big Smoke. She latches on the first familiar face she sees – a delivery boy called Warren. They share a snog on the dance floor and when he is summoned to Hartstown by someone called The Duchess, she decides to follow him.

Ian Lloyd Anderson as Taxi Driver and Sarah Greene as Alice in Alice in Funderland by Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell. Photography Richard Gilligan.
Ian Lloyd Anderson as Taxi Driver and Sarah Greene as Alice in Alice in Funderland by Phillip McMahon and Raymond Scannell. Photography Richard Gilligan.

Alice follows Warren and we follow Alice on her adventures through Dublin as she tries to make her way to Hartstown. Along the way she meets a patriotic Taxi Driver (Ian Lloyd Anderson, doing his best Damien Dempsey impression), The Duchess (the divine Ruth McGill) and the Minister for All Your Needs (Mark O’Regan with a bad wig and a Cheshire Cat grin). There is also a wonderful scene set on the top of Liberty Hall when Alice saves the life of The Gay (the wonderful Paul Reid on roller skates). It’s a very funny scene but also one of the most touching in the play, and finishes with a beautiful and poignant duet – We’re all on the Edge.

Despite the many clever one-liners and sly little quips to the audience, this is a show with a whole lot of heart. It’s never cynical and is as feel-good as a musical should be! There also loads of big, spectacular song-and-dance numbers, such as We’re All Going to Hartstown, which closes the first act which ends with Alice doing the splits in the centre of the stage.

But the quieter, gentler songs are also incredibly beautiful.  Hopefully writer Phillip McMahon and composer Raymond Scannell make the soundtrack available to buy as some stage in the near future. Ruth McGill and Susannah de Wrixon perform another of my favourite songs, and one that has been stuck in my head for the last 15 months, Toros in the Banal.

It’s a show that you want to send all of your friends to because it is so enjoyable. Book your tickets immediately – there’s only three weeks left and I suspect it will start selling out very soon. And once you have seen it, you’ll want to go again and again – I know I do!

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