Alice in Wonderland


When eleven year old Alice has an argument with her mum on the platform at Brixton tube station she jumps aboard the train through the sliding doors into a world of magic reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Rabbit-Hole. Here she encounters extravagantly imagined eccentrics such as a pigeon, a rat and a running nose – representing the three things you don’t want to see on the tube.

The running joke is about the underground. Caught in a loop which the train goes round and round, no-one can escape (reflecting life), everyone has to remain in their rightful place in their allotted carriage. The ‘Fear’ is represented by the gap (which you must mind). Travellers who remain on the tube too long will become that most reviled of creatures, the commuter: ‘If you spend too long on the train you become one, you lose all hope’, says one character. Tube stops act as puns. ‘I could Kilburn that cat!’; ‘You’re in deep Bayswater’; ‘I pray to the Seven Sisters I never need to use her again’.

In a production full of zany ideas, the storyline involves a tea party which is a  conspiracy against the  evil Queen of the Line who drives the train, but none of their hundreds of plans have ever been put into action to allow them to take their rightful place in the first carriage.  They perform on a set of train upholstery and overhead advertising (‘Jabberwocky – see it, slay it, sorted’) with an impressive scene where the roof of the train is lowered to form a platform for a final battle scene reminiscent of Star Wars complete with light sabre.

Alice is convincingly played by Nkhanise Phiri who is clearly one to watch.  She holds the stage throughout the whole of this production and expresses the bewildered, angry child with every part of her body – she dances, raps, jumps on the seats rolls on the floor, jumps into holes and interacts sparkily with the rest of the cast.  Running Nose is played by a lively Will Spence in an all-over pink leotard who also plays the Cheshire Cat –  in this story a socially inept computer hacker. Rosa Garland is fabulous as a Tortoise represented as a fussy bag lady and as Rat, scratching and itching her way through the performance. Khai Shaw’s Financial Times-reading white rabbit is loveable, with never enough time for all the important things he must do; and playing Pigeon squawking his way through the carriages. Not to be outdone is Toyin Ayedun-Alase  as Queen of the Line and Mum who plays outlandish and caring with equal vigour.

In a rounded piece of writing by Jack Bradfield, Alice takes on foes such as the Jabberwocky and the evil Queen and eventually comes to understand her devoted mum and the challenges she faces. The programme points out that this play is a collaborative effort of the cast devised through workshops. The action is enlivened by the raps of lyricist (credited as ‘Rapperturg’) Gerel Falconer making it a production which never lags.

This was a splendid introduction for me to London’s newest theatre which is set on the historic Coldharbour Lane.  Brixton House is the successor to the venerable Oval House.  The new building has a multi-coloured neon front, a generous bar/meeting area front of house and helpful friendly staff and volunteers –  so go check it out.