Australian Dance Reviews

Storytellers Co.’s ‘Alice in Wondergram’: A feast for the imagination

Storytellers Co's 'Alice in Wondergram'. Photo by Elisabeth Degen.
Storytellers Co's 'Alice in Wondergram'. Photo by Elisabeth Degen.

Queensland Multicultural Centre, Queensland.
15 January 2023.

Storytellers Co. recently presented its newest production, a fresh take on the well-known story of Alice in Wonderland, titled Alice in Wondergram. This original work (written by Bethany Carlos and Leanne Malone) takes audiences on an eccentric journey through a world not unlike the one Tim Burton created for his take on the tale, but with a twist – the audience get to vote live on Instagram at certain points in the story, to decide which way it would go. This is no mean feat, with a short three-day rehearsal period leading into showtime for this full-length musical.

Storytellers Co. inserts its own unique creative twists and turns to any work the company does, and Alice in Wondergram is no exception. Alice (Elizabeth Edwards) ‘follows’ the White Rabbit (Solomon Ashton) into a land of eccentric characters who are obsessed with a phone app called Wondergram, and it seems Wondergram is all anybody is about in this land. Parallels between the pop culture app Instagram and the creation Wondergram are woven throughout. Play on words were in abundance – the Queen of Hearts (Marian King) chasing ‘hearts’, the popular ‘flamingirlz’ (Lulu King, Tehillah Thach, Abigail Jones) are hilarious gossip girls who take non-stop selfies and make fun of anyone else thinking they can do better, all the while brilliantly channelling their namesake, the opportunity to ‘follow’ characters, the list goes on.  It is a competition of hearts and followers in Wondergram.

Being an independent theatre company with a passion for telling unique stories of hope, Storytellers Co. often produces work that has food for thought in the tale. Alice’s story of getting tangled up in Wondergram speaks to the thought that too much time spent in our online worlds causes relationship and communication breakdown, that perspectives can be incredibly distorted, and we end up caring way too much about what those in the online world think of us. Storytellers Co. gives the stories they tell the most interesting twists and turns, and Alice in Wondergram was entertaining from start to finish.

The process of getting this full-length show from start of the rehearsal period to performance in only three days was a brilliant achievement for the young cast. It was exciting to see early career artists with great potential in full force, startlets oozing with talent and pizazz. Triple threat Lulu King was particularly entertaining as a sassy Flamingo 2, bringing a wonderful catchy energy to her role, Doormouse Emily Abolins brought a level of skill to her character that hinted at major talent waiting to be unleashed, and mid-career artist Marian King as the Queen of Hearts was a scream a minute as her high energy, dominating Queen made appearances. Alice (Elizabeth Edwards) took us on a curious journey through Wondergram as she did her best to avoid losing her head, and Solomon Ashton (White Rabbit) and Matthew Borja (Mad Hatter) brought comic relief and excellent timing in their delivery. No small feat in such a short rehearsal period.

The telling of the story followed along with ease; however, the aim to impress upon audiences that it is not worth spending all your time down the rabbit hole of online approval seeking somewhat lacked in the telling. There were lots of strong moments along the way that this conclusion could be drawn from, but Alice’s own experience and internal journey to her decision landed somewhat flat. When the moment came for her to choose to give up her phone and not be so glued to it, the moment felt disconnected, as if we had zoomed right back in, having had a zoom out lens on the majority of the work. She came across as more an observer to events, which led to her personal revelation not being as strong as perhaps it was intended to be. It was a logical conclusion which lacked a nuanced development.

Choreographically, the work suited the casting. Stronger dancers were featured, but not to distraction, and every member made the movement and blocking their own. It lent itself to the slapstick style humour, and the uniqueness of the narrative. Choreographer Tehillah Thach was able to give the highlight moments their emphasis whilst keeping true to character, with an acute sense of the strengths of the cast. There were some really fun moments, with a can-can taking out one of the Queen of Heart’s chaotic mad moments, and a dream-like sequence with a beautiful waltz score. The musical score was original, written by Storytellers Co. Founder and show Director Bethany Carlos and cast member Matthew Borja. It created beautiful imagery, whilst playing on familiar tunes amongst original songs that were catching from the first hearing.

There were so many entertaining and fun filled moments in Alice in Wondergram, with many creative twists on its historical counterpart, a great achievement for all involved. Storytellers Co. creates wonderful original work whilst giving performers a chance to learn a full-length work under time pressure and nail it, which is no mean feat. Brisbane theatre goers shouldn’t miss the next Storytellers Co. work; it will certainly be a feast for the imagination, and supporting independent theatre is always a plus.

By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.

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