Oh, how I envied the Cheshire Cat's unwavering smile

Alice - An Adventure in Wonderland | Regent's Park, London
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The Independent Culture

When the Cheshire Cat departs, it leaves behind its smile - a curvy, melon-slice of teeth perched on the end of a pole. I rather envied it this gift, so useful at times when you need to disguise the fact that your own smile is a trifle forced.

When the Cheshire Cat departs, it leaves behind its smile - a curvy, melon-slice of teeth perched on the end of a pole. I rather envied it this gift, so useful at times when you need to disguise the fact that your own smile is a trifle forced.

It would certainly have come in handy while I was watching Charles Way's adaptation - produced jointly by the New Shakespeare Company and the Unicorn Theatre for Children - of which the best and the worst can be said is that it is jolly and, well, jolly.

Rosalind Paul's Alice reminds you of a frantically friendly children's TV host. She is seen at the start playing the argumentative child at a family picnic. But far from charming you with the pertness of her thought processes (when her mother protests that she's "trying" to play cards, Alice asks: "Oh, is it difficult, then?"), this shrill loud-mouth makes you wonder why the family hasn't put her up for adoption.

In an incoherent mish-mash of Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, our heroine is on the run from the law on various counts in a world terrorised by the rumbling, off-stage Jabberwock.

My assistants (aged eight and 10) loved Lynette Clark's terrific turn as a rambunctious West Indian Duchess. She lights up the stage with a rousing rendition of "Speak roughly to your little boy,/and beat him when he sneezes", delivered as a calypso (music by Kate Edgar) to an improvised steel band of pots, pans and kitchen utensils.

They also enjoyed James Lailey's comically seductive Caterpillar, whose narcotic hookah is here re-imagined as a mesmerising saxophone, and Nick Murray Brown as an amusingly faint-hearted and treacherous Humpty Dumpty.

But they were disappointed by the lack of visual inventiveness. The transitions between episodes and between the waking world and Wonderland are dismally prosaic and un-dreamlike.

My kids felt, too, that the production was talking down to their age group. The show is so busy being chummy that it neglects to create an adequate sense of just how disconcerting the characters actually are, with their twisted Kafkaesque logic and murderous whims.

But perhaps this demonstrates that with a classic such as Alice, which appeals to young and old, an adaptation aimed exclusively at children is likely to miss both targets.

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