I’ve been sharing a rehearsal space with Echo Youth Theatre at St Edmunds Church in Norwich for a couple of months, and having heard quite a bit about the young company, I went along to the Maddermarket to watch their latest show and see what they’re all about.
They’ve been working on a production of Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, a stage adaptation of the classic Lewis Carroll stories, billed as a twisted version of Alice’s adventures.
The title character, Alice, was played by two different actors in the first and second Acts of the show. The first half was a frankly bonkers, but concise adaptation of the wonderful original tale. The lead role was played in an assured, slightly sassy manner, and with a maturity well beyond her nine years, by Imogen Howard. Not only did she give a very confident and convincing performance as Alice, she displayed a wonderful physical dexterity which saw her diving, being lifted, and being sprung across the stage at times. Despite her diminutive stature, such was her command of the stage, she didn’t ever get lost in the crowd. It was a very impressive performance.
The whole first half had a slightly chaotic feel to it, not least because in almost every scene, the stage was full to the brim with characters, and it did make it ever so slightly difficult to follow at times. Were it not for the fact that I’m very familiar with the story, I might have had trouble identifying what was happening. However, what you could tell was that the young cast were so well-drilled, they were never at any point unsure of what they were supposed to be doing, and they never lost focus or broke character.
A particular highlight from the first half for me was the slightly dark interpretation of the Mad Hatter, played with wonderful skill, precision, and restraint by Beth Buckley. She managed to bring a sense of calm in an otherwise anarchic, almost frenzied scene, with her measured delivery and her impressive concentration considering the absolute chaos going on around her. Having also shared a stage with her in The Sound of Music earlier this year, I know she has great ability from a musical theatre perspective too, so I’m hopeful of a bright future in theatre for her.
Moving on to the second half, and Imogen traded places, quite literally, with Harriet Brightwell, who took over as Alice as she continued her adventures ‘through the looking glass’. I have to compliment the company on the transition scene in this moment too, which was really effective and brilliantly choreographed. In fact, all of the transitions were handled excellently.
Taking over from Imogen wasn’t an easy task, but Harriet did it beautifully, giving Alice her own unique stamp, playing her in a slightly bewildered fashion initially, but then pushing the character in a more confident direction, leading to her being crowned Queen Alice. Not only was Harriet able to show off her impressive talent as an actor, but she also gave us a glimpse of her proficiency with a flute, in a thoroughly versatile, assertive and professional performance.
In general, I found the second half easier to follow, not least because the scenes weren’t so full-on. Plus, with fewer characters on stage at any one time, the actors were given much more breathing space. This meant there was quite a few stand-out performances in the second Act.
Devon White played the White Rabbit throughout, and showed himself to be a very natural performer, with superb confidence and delivery on stage. The excellent Korben White had a few roles in the show, but it was as the unicorn that his theatrical and comedic flair was able to shine through, particularly when duelling with the lion, played equally fabulously by Poppy Foley. The two of them provided some particularly memorable moments with their hilarious fight sequences. Kylara Pope and Alex McIntyre were great as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, giving a unique take on characters often portrayed as twins, and adding some physical comedy to the show too. Rain Wernham was superb as the White Queen, showing off not only her fantastic acting chops, but her roller-skating ability and skill as a flutist. Is that a word? It is now. Great fluting, Rain!
Elsewhere, Jemima Wilson and Emerson Kelly-Clarke performed a hilarious duel as the Red and White Knight respectively, a scene in which Emerson really gave a great performance after having seen off Jemima’s character. And finally, George Bartlett-Archery showed off a great set of pipes as well as an excellent storytelling and comic ability.
I’ve mentioned quite a few names for their individual moments, but really as an ensemble, the whole company was brilliant, and that’s what this whole show was about, in truth – the performance as a collective, and they really were a great unit.
Aside from the performance element, the show itself was fantastically produced by a number of the youth company too, with the highlights being the costumes, lighting and effects, which all added up to a real feast for the eyes. There was creative use of UV lighting on costumes and props to add to the, at times, psychedelic feel of the show. The puppetry was excellent and creative, and I really enjoyed the appearance of the Cheshire Cat. The shadow puppetry in the second half too gave the show yet another dynamic.
It was chaos at times, but such a well-organised chaos, and it all added up to a fantastically entertaining show, and everyone in the production should be so proud.
What it also showed to me was that there is a huge wealth of youth talent waiting in the wings to take over from old hands like myself, and also that there are some amazing opportunities for youngsters out there to get a start in the world of theatre. They’re unlikely to do much better than getting themselves involved in a great group like Echo Youth Theatre, with some fantastic people at the helm, so do check them out if you have the chance.