Whenever a theatre company takes on the iconic Alice and her journey down the rabbit hole, you always cross your fingers and hope that the production can reproduce the magical and surreal Wonderland that Lewis Carroll created. Without it, any version of the show will come up short.
Thankfully Iris Theatre succeeds in this and, as a result, an evening spent in their company is well recommended.
Alice's journey is not played out in a single stage setting. Instead the production weaves its way around the grounds of St Paul's Church before concluding within the beautiful church itself. Watching the show in the gardens outside on a warm summer evening is a treat but for theatrical production, it allows the show to make impressive and inventive use of its facilities for some of the more challenging elements of the story such as Alice outgrowing the White Rabbit's house and the grinning Cheshire Cat.
The lunacy of Wonderland is retained beautifully - and the audience is invited to be part of it. We're all sitting at the table for tea with the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, a lucky handful play croquet with the Queen of Hearts whilst others get to be the jury at Alice's trial.
What was wonderful to see is that the adults at the show were as enthusiastic for this involvement as the children. All shows aimed at children should of course work on a level for adults as well and Iris Theatre succeeds in charming all members of its audience. Whether it's the sharp wordplay, the profound metaphors to Alice's search for her identity or the extremely camp Queen of Hearts, there's plenty for adults to get their teeth into.
The production asks a lot of its small cast with numerous costume changes, singing and having to navigate the audience from one setting to another. But the actors are largely up to the task with a couple of exceptionally strong performances bolstering the cast.
Elements of the show could do with being sharpened up. A few of the scenes would benefit from being shortened and the lack of microphones around the grounds does mean that it can be hard to hear some parts if you're at the back. But these were never profound enough to distract from what was an enchanting evening.
Iris Theatre, Covent Garden
To 31 August, 2013