In an outdoor show, the weather is effectively an extra member of the cast. I attended the first performance of Holland Park Opera’s family show with Eric and Ray (7), equipped with all manner of waterproofs, but we were very lucky that, despite the heavy rain forecast, the sun smiled on us.

This is thoroughly recommended for families of all ages. Don’t go expecting a faithful rendering of the entire Wonderland story. The key characters (I suspect most people’s favourites) and the down-the-rabbit-hole story are there, but are adapted to make a five-scene show running a little over an hour. There’s also some borrowing from the other side of the looking glass to bring us Humpty Dumpty, Tweedles Dum and Dee and the White Knight.

Fflur Wyn (Alice) and James Cleverton (White Rabbit) © Alex Brenner
Fflur Wyn (Alice) and James Cleverton (White Rabbit)
© Alex Brenner

The ‘real world’ of this Alice is modern, with Wonderland Victorian, but with a nod to various eras in the libretto and the music. The libretto has passing references to SATs and ASBOs sitting very happily within text which, like the whole production, seems very faithful to the spirit of the Lewis Carroll books. What’s added doesn’t jar. I very much enjoyed the Queen of Hearts’ song giving a brief history of beheading. Ray liked the warning Alice received that ‘There’s malice in Wonderland’.

The music matches the libretto in style: modern classical sounds give way to elements from music hall or jazz for certain sections in Will Todd’s beautifully-crafted score. It is well judged for the venue and the forces and rightly doesn’t compromise on complexity for a young audience, with some superb ensembles. It was also great to hear in quick succession the beguiling coloratura soprano bottle singing “Drink me” and then Keel Watson’s smokily laid-back low bass, bluesy Caterpillar.

The transformation of Alice’s affectionate but slightly frazzled parents into the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter, equally well acted and sung in each role, is a nice take on more traditional doubled roles in older operas.

Keel Watson, Fflur Wyn, James Cleverton, Robert Burt and Stephanie Bodsworth © Alex Brenner
Keel Watson, Fflur Wyn, James Cleverton, Robert Burt and Stephanie Bodsworth
© Alex Brenner

In an excellent cast, Fflur Wyn’s Alice stands out with her lovely bright sound and sparky presence, and takes the audience with her in her curiosity at the characters she meets on her adventure. Eric said the music was ‘better than Frozen’ which is high praise from him, and Alice’s main song in particular, which is reprised at the end by the full cast, is a winner. 

Eric’s favourite character was Majid El-Bushra’s sinuous blue Cheshire Cat. Among the very fine costumes, his outfit and makeup were particularly splendid. Both boys also liked the squabbling twins (how could twin boys not love these?). They also enjoyed the fact that certain characters appeared above the set rather than on the ground.

Each scene has its own set, with a very short walk for the audience in between. These moments are cleverly managed, with music to cover the transition and tell the audience which way to go, and also provide a quick break for audience members who might find an hour on their cushion in the same spot too long.

Outdoor acoustic performances are notoriously hard to balance for sound but this mostly succeeded here. Depending on where we sat in the different scenes, I was sometimes conscious of missing some of the detail from the middle of the orchestral texture, but this only detracted occasionally, and the ensemble (‘You could hear everybody even when everybody was singing at the same time’) and tuning were excellent, particularly considering the spaces across which performers were working, with the attentive but not noiseless audience sometimes positioned in between the cast and orchestra. 

This was a treat which would still have been great fun on a rainy day.