Alice: Press Reviews #1

New look Alice in a 2001 adventure

If there is a touch of defiance in Sally Ann Triplett's new portrait of Alice, it is hardly surprising.  The last two years have been far from a wonderland for the girl from pop group Bardo, Britain's entrants in the Eurovision Song Contest.

Her song One Step Further got into the Top Ten, but she and boyfriend Stephen Fischer were beaten in the finals and soon became the duo the pop world forgot.  Now Sally Ann, 21, is fighting back.  She has formed a new group with Stephen and last night made her debut in the rock musical Alice at Leeds Playhouse.  The show puts Lewis Carroll's classic characters into the next century.

Sally Ann said: "I wouldn't advise anyone to appear in the Eurovision Song Contest"

(Daily Mail, March 23rd 1984)

Don't go to this Alice expecting blue hair ribbons, white rabbits or portly twins.  This is Alice updated to a hi-tech rock musical, a mad hyper's tea party where the tea is labelled "Smoke Me".  It is faithful to the original in being a whimsical childhood fantasy - Alice is still an innocent, surviving in a bizarre nightmare world of adulthood by testing the preposterous propositions she both brings and meets against her own common-sense integrity.

And there are some faint allusions to the source material in the characters she meets - a lith and confident Cat, a defiant Duchess and a Professor Turtle locked in nostalgia for the quadrille.  The dreamy Caterpillar plays a saxophone rather than smoking a hookah and they call him Butterfly.  But the biggest difference and the closest connection is surely in the central character who, like Lewis Carroll, is a Mathmagician and falls in love with Alice.

His idealist's aversion to the real world leads him to programme the all-controlling computer of the Red Queen to delete the "yesterways" and decree a new, unmessy now, that lists the burden of choice and leaves no room for spontaneity, passion or dreams.  Significantly, language or sloganising is the key to control - "all random nonsense will be erased" - as the allocation of mates is data-based with no relation to foolish feelings.

But while the resistance, the cherishing of human values, comes from colourful anarchic revolutionaries, Richard Scott's book is a sufficiently simplistic and sentimental assertion of bourgeois individualism to be a West End hit.  And the music by Anthony Phillips of Genesis, with numbers like The Magician ("Open up your heart") could even take it to Broadway as a safely sanitised Hair.

Two things emerge from this production launched on commission from the Leeds Playhouse.  One is that director Nicholas Hytner is worth watching - as his Tom Jones and The Ruling Class here, and Jumpers at the Royal Exchange suggested.  In spite of the first night problems with the sound, this was a production that knew where it was going.  The other discovery was Sally Anne Triplett's performance as Alice.  For someone whose only other claim on our attention is to have sung in the Eurovision Song Contest, she was outstanding.  She sings, moves and acts well; she has the presence and the face of 1984.  I couldn't take my eyes off her.  I don't know whether this amounts to real star quality, or just that I fancy her.

Robin Thornber, The Guardian, 24th March 1984.

Alice isn't one of the greatest musicals ever written, but it is a lively addition to that list of bouncy, entertaining shows that seem to stick around for quite some time.  This computer-age version of Alice In Wonderland, which has its world premiere at Leeds Playhouse last night before an enthusiastic capacity audience, is packed with colour and movement, catchy songs and gimmicky surprises.

There were a few of those problems which reveal themselves on first nights - like the plodding pace of the first ten minutes or so, and the way in the voices came and went as the singers moved around the stage, because of the absence of throat mikes.  But apart from that, it was quite a delight as it unfolded its story of Alice on Eight, trapped in a system devised by the Queen of Hearts supercomputer where everybody talks like Stanley Unwin, until she is rescued by the Mathmagician and joins the Rebels.

Sally Ann Triplett (remember her as half of Bardot in the 1982 Eurovision Song Contest?) is a very fetching Alice, bewildered first by the dangerous freedoms she discovers but then revelling in them.  Small wonder the Mathmagician (a nicely controlled performance from Bruce Payne) takes a fancy to her.

Bright and brisk direction by Nicholas Hytner and inspired choreography by Heather Seymour help to make this a memorable production.

Images that stay in the mind from an evening full of bright performances and clever touches, are of Peter Alex Newton's ballectic fight, as the sinewy Cat, with Michael Skyer's robotic Security; Hacker (Davis Easter) and his girls rocking  and rolling through Duck and Dive; Sally Ann Triplett's sweet solo Holding Him Again; and above all, Isabelle Lucas as a splendid Duchess belting out her show-stopper of a song, Love That Makes The World Go Round.

Mike Priestley, Bradford Telegraph & Argus, 23rd March 1984

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